Monday, August 29, 2011

Did It Work?


So it's been a week now. My blog's spent the whole week headlined with a hopelessly out-of-date post about Nycole Turmel, leftover from a previous era of Canadian political history.

It's not that I haven't tried to write about the death of Jack Layton - it's just that everything I wrote sounded trite, insincere, bandwagon-jumping. I might write something some day, once the moment has passed.

Well, the moment is already passing. Today is Monday, the one-week anniversary of his passing and the first weekday after the funeral. A fog has already lifted, that strange feeling that permeated the air last week is already going away. The line in Reverend Hawkes's eulogy, 'Hi Jack, how are we doing?', that mere hours ago had me in tears already seems pretty cheesy. Nycole Turmel is already moving into Stornoway, the Star has a headline with Bob Rae crassly claiming the Liberals can win the 2015 election, and the chalk at City Hall is probably fading away.

But that doesn't mean things are back to normal; I truly believe they aren't. This week was an amazing mix of spontaneous mass emotion and of intelligently crafted calculation: Jack Layton and his team of advisors really did turn this week into a celebration of the New Democratic Party. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting this week was staged. I don't think anyone in the country could have predicted how much emotion would be spilt over Layton's passing. But while the media has a vested interest in shaping the image of the man we mourn as one of a charismatic uniter of people who wanted to change the tone of politics, few Canadians fell for it. This week was very political, and very partisan. This week really was all about the NDP, or hopefully all about how the idealistic, progressive hopes and dreams of a still-strong majority of Canadians are finding focus in the NDP.

For all the people saying people care about Layton and not his party, I think the message was really pushed out there that you can't separate the man from the party. I mean, think about it: the CN Tower and Niagara Falls were turned the colour of the NDP, not the colour that uniquely belonged to one man. Stephen Lewis got a standing ovation (from the Prime Minister too!) for declaring Layton's letter a 'manifesto of social democracy'. There was no sense in any of the official occassions this week that Jack Layton even existed outside of the confines of the party. All of his pallbearers were party luminaries - would anybody else tie himself to his party so closely?

But there was a reason, and it was not by any means 'vainglorious'. It was all about transferring focus to the party, to build something permanent from the transience of human life. To turn despair at the loss of the principal face of opposition to Harper into hope at the establishment of a vehicle of opposition to Harper. TO make it clear to every Canadian that there is only one way to oppose Harper from here on, and the door ain't red.

Did it work?

Well, it'll be tough to tell. No pollster was crass enough to poll last week on party support: it would have been an ugly move, and it wouldn't have told us anything relevant anyway. Even during this cooldown, though, I have a hunch that the NDP is at first place nationwide as we speak, a place it hasn't been since Broadbent. I bet more Canadians see themselves as NDP supporters than see themselves as Conservative supporters at this unfortunately irrelevant juncture years before the next election. And I bet way more Canadians see themselves as NDP supporters than as supporters of Bob Rae's tired and directionless party, where confusion is currently reigning within its ranks over whether or not it should even continue to exist as an independent entity. As much as the media likes to paint the NDP as a headless chicken, aimlessly flapping its wings, consider the following: as high as the NDP's profile, and goodwill towards the NDP, has risen over the past week, is there a single Canadian who is currently saying, 'I supported the NDP just a few weeks ago, but Jack's death and the national response has suddenly made me a Liberal or Conservative'? Leaderless yes, worried about the future certainly... but no longer committed to the party? That's impossible to imagine. We're living in an NDP Canada at the moment, though who knows how long that will last.

There's a long road ahead, and there are countless forces out there wishing the NDP to failure. But I don't think there's any going back now, and the sooner the Liberals realise this the better. The Liberal-propagated fallacy that Canada exists on a binary red-blue axis with the NDP as a sideshow is permanently dead. If anyone wants to talk about door colours, no-one would pretend anymore that the orange door is somehow a lesser choice. I don't want the Liberals to admit defeat; I want them to stop nipping at the NDP's heels and redefine themselves as a party equally comfortable courting current Tory supporters as current NDP supporters. The NDP have the goodwill right now, they have the monopoly on righteousness and on idealism, and that's incredibly valuable - now all they need is the legitimacy. I'm pretty sure they'll be able to pull it off, but it'll be rocky. People who have held their tongues this past week aren't going to hold them anymore.

Good.

I personally believe in the ideology of the NDP. I believe it's the right course for our country, and i believe it stands up to scrutiny. We should fear nothing of being subjected to that scrutiny. We can't meet attacks with indignation anymore; we should take pride in those attacks, because people only attack what they perceive as a threat. And the NDP is a threat now, a very serious one. We can't meet those attacks with indignation, so we'll have to counter them with reason and with poise. Jack Layton was inspiring because his politics were inspiring, and his politics have not died: they remain very much alive in Canada's main party of the opposition. If you believed the media in that oh-so-distant month between Layton's announcement of his illness and his death, the appointment of Nycole Turmel spelt disaster for the party, whereas interim polling suggested it mattered not a whit - people believe in the NDP.

It wasn't just Jack's death that created this belief. But Jack's death has brought it out into the open, in the form of a genuine yearning for the kind of Canada that the NDP is uniquely able to provide.

The Conservatives' spin recently has been amazing. So many of us have started to feel that this country is slipping away from us, being pulled in a different and unwelcome direction. But hey - look around. This is still our country, this is still a worthy place to build our dreams. Canadians haven't become more conservative at all. We'd just lost sight of who we are. Jack's death was a horrible, senseless tragedy, but one that has served to remind us of who we are.

And the only way the moment will pass is if we suddenly, en masse, decide that it's the Conservatives, or the Liberals, or the Bloc, or the Greens, in whom that vision is best manifested. And how likely is that?

So thanks, Jack. It worked.

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