Sunday, February 27, 2011

Progressive Talking Point: New Democrats for a New Democracy

I wonder if the budget 'drama' is going to play out the way it looks like it just might... I wonder if the Liberals and the Conservatives really are going to square off on the topic of corporate taxes.

It's a worthy issue - it's the kind of thing elections should be waged over. But if that's how it comes to pass, it might have implications for the long-term voting habits of Canadians. It might shift allegiances. And I'm not sure it'll happen to the betterment of Canadians.

After all, the gambit will only work for the Liberals if it helps them peel off some working-class support from the NDP. Theoretically they could peel off working-class support from the Conservatives, too, but I think they'll have a harder time making that work. The allegiance of corporate interests and apolitical working-class 'common people' that has treated the Republican Party so well is looking like working up here too - and just as that has allowed a corporate-shill party to rebrand a help-the-poor party as 'élitist' down south, the same process is well underway here, helped in no part by the Liberals' long-term willingness to appear élitist and certainly helped by the very existence of Michael Ignatieff. If the Liberals are hoping to get the common man to see the Liberals as their champion, Ignatieff is not going to help at all.

On the other hand, Ignatieff is a more natural ally of a kind of older-money Toronto Liberal, someone well-off who finds the Conservatives' 'heartland' brand of social conservatism a turn-off. Moneyed Ontario Liberals have never been the soul of the party, but they've always been an important element of its success. If an election really is to be drawn on the terms of 'how much should we tax the rich', it's not too much to expect that the rich (and the would-be rich) will also vote on those terms. If the Liberals draw a stark contrast on class lines, it will push them well into the overcrowded left and leave fully one-half of the spectrum the exclusive domain of the Conservatives. That's a hell of a rish to take.

So it's interesting to see how Jack Layton seems to be playing it. For the NDP to stand outside of discussion on wealth and taxes seems absurd: surely this, if anything, is why we have a New Democratic Party, isn't it? And yet if Layton is really playing his cards the way I think he might be, it will if nothing else be an interesting electoral experiment.

It's tough for the NDP to fight a campain on the notion of a Liberal/NDP coalition: it merely invites the question of why anyone should vote NDP if it only means getting Liberals. But if Layton is going to attempt to approach the current budget dialogue as the 'moderate voice of reason', as the party committed to making progress by working with whomever they need to, as the party not stuck in stubborn line-in-the-sand polemics but willing to co-operate, to work within the system... if Layton and the NDP can actually communicate that message, it might give the NDP a valuable place in the minds of voters.

Everyone in Canada is fed up with Canadian politics. Everyone agrees the system is not working, that parties are failing to engage the population and that elections are failing to return parliaments that represent the will of Canadians and have the respect of Canadians. Insomuch as the NDP is just another voice in the din, this reality affects them as much as any other party (moreso, perhaps, in that their typical voter profile largely overlaps with the kinds of people most likely to be disaffected by the current political climate). But if they can be seen as an alternative to simple business-as-usual politicking, well that might see them reaping votes from all over the place and in perhaps unexpected amounts.

The New Democratic Party - the party for a new democratic system. Changing our electoral system and abolishing the senate are already long-standing platforms of the NDP. And they've been associated with the word 'coalition' so long now that, frankly, they might as well run with it - not by saying 'we're in symbiosis with the Liberals' but by saying 'we as a country need to enter an era when coalitions are tolerated and even encouraged: we in the NDP announce our willingness to work with all parties after an election to the extent that we have common ground'. Since it'd be a relatively empty threat, the NDP could avoid the 'coalition of the losers' scenario by stating that as a policy the third-finishing party should attempt to form a coalition with the first-finishing party before the second - knowing that Harper would never consent to a Conservative-NDP coalition anyway. Still, it could make it look like they were trying.

'We do politics differently'. I'm not sure that it's really something that can light Canadians on fire, but little else seems to be: corporate tax cuts, fighter jets, Helena Oda (I mean Bev Guergis), G20, Security Council... it amounts to a big litany of 'blah blah' for a lot of Canadians. What will those Canadians do? At the moment, excluding the 10% or so currently committed to the Green Party in what is to a certain degree a protest vote, it seems like they're snaking towards the Conservatives, based on a notion that at least they're in power and they haven't screwed up too much. These people aren't necessarily by nature complacent. It's just the broken-record-player din of politics-as-usual has lulled them to sleep. There is a chance that standing up and basing a campaign around 'what we're doing is not democracy; let's stop it' might have legs...

...And otherwise, let's face it, the NDP are largely dead in the water.

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