RM Issue #031030
The NDP welcomes all 'progressives'
by Jack Layton National Post
Thursday, October 23, 2003
In her memoirs, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously quips that Brian Mulroney placed, "too much stress on the adjective rather than the noun" in Progressive Conservative. Her fixation on the adjective is shared by David Orchard, who rejoices where she cringed.
Mr. Orchard's influence on the PC party is admirable, as are his deep convictions about the necessity for sustainability and sovereignty. But even within a small PC party, progressives' impact on policy was negligible. And even with a signed agreement, their valiant effort to protect the best traditions of the old PC party is doomed to fail.
Parties change over time. Abraham Lincoln's Republicans freed the slaves in the 1860s, but opposed mobile voter registration for African-Americans in the 1980s. The Labour Party used to want weapons of mass destruction off British soil and now wishes it could find some in Iraq. South Africa's National Party created and abolished apartheid.
Canada's PC Party is changing, too, as Peter MacKay ends the balance between the P and the C that often served Canada well under John A. Macdonald, John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark. Though the party may feel it no longer requires a progressive influence, the same is not true for Canadian politics.
Today, before the inevitable invasion of Alliance members into the PC party begins, the NDP has more members than the Alliance and more than twice as many as the Tories. And, unlike the Tories, the NDP can credibly expect to elect MPs in areas of Mr. Orchard's strength, namely British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Toronto.
As such, the NDP, which elected more MPs than the Tories in each of the past three elections, is a more effective vehicle for progressives currently within the PC party. We also allow these stalwarts a chance to join the majority within one party, rather than remaining a frustrated minority within a party that long since abandoned them.
Indeed, the notion that today's Tories somehow differ from the Alliance isn't bolstered by facts. Both parties supported George Bush's war on Iraq, both opposed ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and modernizing marriage laws -- and, like Paul Martin, both ran on platforms of massive tax cuts in 2000, tilted towards corporations and the well-to-do.
Again, like Mr. Martin, both the Tories and Alliance support Canadian involvement in Star Wars missile defence and expanding the powerful corporate trade deals that have already prevented Canada from banning some toxic chemicals. They are similarly aligned in issues of sustainable agriculture, all supporting a largely deregulated and label-free status for genetically engineered food.
As for public medicare, both right-wing parties joined the Liberals and voted against an NDP motion in 2000 to prevent public monies from funding private, for-profit hospitals such as those opened in Alberta. If there is any progressive left in the PC party, it has long since been expunged from policy and the current merger with the Alliance simply banishes the adjective from the name as well.
The question facing progressive Tories is what to do?
Here, the lessons of the Liberal party over the last decade are relevant, for there are many Liberals in Parliament, and beyond, who find common cause with New Democrats on economic, environmental, social and foreign policy. No doubt they tried to have an impact upon their government's course, but looking at its record -- more conservative by any standard than Mr. Mulroney's - - they failed.
Only in the interregnum between Mr. Martin's departure and his imminent ascendance did progressive Liberals finally begin to win: Canada did not participate in the Iraq War; we ratified Kyoto; moved to modernize marriage and marijuana laws and finally got big money out of politics -- although likely not in time to stop Bay Street bankrolling its new Conservative Party.
The victories, however, are likely short-lived since Mr. Martin, whom Bay Street had already bankrolled, has made it clear he will undo much of the recent Chrétien legacy -- one that propelled the Liberals up, not down, in the polls -- and march merrily down the path of yet more tax cuts and debt reduction for debt reduction's sake.
If progressive Liberals could only win in the short 18 months in which they'd already lost, the prospect for progressive Conservatives winning at all is dim indeed. Brian Mulroney is not just crowing about his role in the new Conservative Party's inevitable creation, he's likely on the phone to Mrs. Thatcher rejoicing that the cursed adjective has been dropped at last.
The adjective served Canada and the PC party well, but its imminent demise merely cements what has already occurred. The party that built the railroad died in 1983, when Mr. Mulroney became leader, just as the Liberals changed fundamentally in 1993 when Mr. Martin became finance minister.
The next fundamental realignment in Canadian politics is taking place today, in 2003. And the question facing progressives of all stripes is whether we will challenge this rightward realignment by championing the adjective and applying it to innovative solutions put forward by a viable, growing political party.
Now is the time to look to the future, and focus our efforts on changing a country, not just a party.
Jack Layton is leader of the New Democratic Party.
Copyright 2003 National Post