The future of the New Democratic Party and Canada: the real West wants in

Your blogger with the dynamic Dave Barrett, who is enjoying his retirement and therefore unlikely to be available to lead the NDP … pity! Below: Audrey McLaughlin, Dave Barrett in his prime, Preston Manning in his.

If the New Democratic Party had chosen Dave Barrett as federal leader in 1989, they’d be the Official Opposition in Ottawa today.

More important, it is said here that if the NDP had selected Mr. Barrett over Audrey McLaughlin, Stephen Harper would have never been prime minister and the Reconstituted Reform Party of Canada or whatever it’s called would not be on the verge of forming a majority government.

Indeed, given the history of the Liberal Party of Canada during the period after 1989, we could well have had a national NDP government by now, or at least have been looking forward to the strong possibility of that happening soon, instead of the current potentially catastrophic situation.

Indeed, Mr. Barrett as Opposition leader could have heralded a reverse takeover of the Liberals by the NDP, just as in fact was engineered by the far-right Reform Party of Canada to subsume the much more inclusive Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. This could have led to a long period of progressive and positive government in our country instead of the neocon nightmare we now face.

Alas, these are all what-ifs, bordering on Technicolor pipedreams.

But the harsh reality is that, no matter what, the dynamic Mr. Barrett would have been a far more effective leader than the well-meaning Ms. McLaughlin had the political talent to be.

More important, Mr. Barrett had the right instincts about what would appeal to Western Canadian voters and would be good for Canada. That is why he opposed the Meech Lake Accord and could give only half-hearted support, which he later concluded had been an error, to the Charlottetown Accord.

In the event, the NDP opted to pursue the improbable if not impossible dream of forming a pan-Canadian social democratic alliance centred in Ontario and Quebec instead of the region where it had its start and enjoyed its greatest potential support. Alas, support in Ontario was half-hearted. In Quebec it was virtually non-existent, since other, nationalist parties occupied the social democratic territory.

Inevitably, this meant support for constitutional policies that were not in the interests of Western Canadians, and which alienated the West from the party to which it had given birth.

What happened next is well known, and tragic. It was Preston Manning and the Reform Party that took advantage of the legitimate constitutional concerns of Westerners. Many voters who personally supported far more progressive economic and social policies than the divisive hard-right Reform Party stood for, held their noses and voted Reform as if it were a course of chemotherapy to cure the country’s potentially fatal constitutional ills.

Why do you think so many Western Canadian New Democrats voted “counter-intuitively” for the Reform Party?

This is what gave Mr. Harper his beachhead, after which came the millions in corporate dollars that aim to make it a permanent occupation despite the well-known progressive proclivities of voters across this land. This is true even here in Alberta where, mainly as a result of their recent voting history, electors are often portrayed as restive hillbillies.

Today, on the cusp of generational change in Ottawa and our fourth federal election in less than seven years, we can read the right-wing media celebrating the careers of Reform politicians like Stockwell Day, the embarrassing religious fundamentalist and social conservative who unlike the vast majority of his fellow Westerners believes men and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.

Mr. Day, for a time himself the Reform leader under one of the party’s many guises, has decided to retire from politics. In the face of his departure and those of other Western Reform MPs who rode on Mr. Manning’s constitutional coattails, “the Conservative Party, which was born out of the Western-dominated Reform and Canadian Alliance, becomes increasingly Ontario-centric,” the Globe and Mail accurately concluded recently.

At the same time, the NDP’s Ontario-based leader, Jack Layton, now 60 and being treated for cancer and other ailments as well as facing a difficult electoral prognosis, may be nearing the end of his political career.

So it is time for the New Democratic Party too to be thinking about generational change, and for Canadians from the region that still offers the party its greatest hope to assert themselves.

As is well-known, Single-Member Plurality systems favour the strongest national party, now the so-called Conservatives, and strong regional parties – as proved by both the Bloc Quebecois and the pre-Conservative Reformers.

With the Reconstituted Reform Party – that is, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives – turning into an Ontario party, this presents a significant second chance for the NDP.

To be blunt, the NDP needs to give up its pan-Canadian pipedream, which will never amount to a hill of beans at least until the NDP can become the Opposition, and to recognize the harsh truth about the first-past-the-post system that was so effectively exploited by Mr. Manning.

The NDP needs a strong leader from Western Canada, and a social democratic platform written with Western Canada’s needs and dreams in mind.

If the NDP cannot or will not recognize that the West is its only hope, Western progressives and social democrats can be forgiven if they look elsewhere for political answers. It is profoundly hoped that this time it will be somewhere more in tune with their fundamental progressive beliefs than the reactionary Conservative-Reform Party under the likes of Mr. Manning and Mr. Harper.

This time, the real West wants in!

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

4 Comments on "The future of the New Democratic Party and Canada: the real West wants in"

  1. jerrymacgp says:

    I had the privilege of hearing Dave Barrett speak a few years ago at a union convention, and what a dynamic, riveting speaker he is. One of the things Canadian politics has lost in recent years is the art of oratory. South of the border they have Barack Obama, who came almost out of nowhere into the land of the inarticulate George W. Bush, and in this area at least I envy our American neighbours.

    Our recent PMs and Opposition leaders have been bland, boring speakers who seem to lack any passion. And let's not mention our outgoing Alberta Premier, who is such a stumbling speaker that it makes one wonder how the PCs had ever even heard of him, let alone elected him leader.

  2. CanadianLatitude says:

    Interesting theory. Personally Audrey McLaughlin was a nice person but she really was no politician. I thought at the time Barrett would of been better, he was more skilled and knew how to play politics.

    Would he of been able to stop Preston manning and Reform Party? I dunno. Maybe they would of been an Alberta only Party it is hard to speculate with what ifs…Rural BC is very neocon. I dunno about SK or MB they have had NDP governments, would it translated federally? It is all what if's…

    One could say what if Clark got a majority in 79 or stayed on as leader and no Mulroney would the Reform Party of started?…The one what if I do know is Harper would of been gone if Iggy had some balls and went the coalition route when he had the chance instead of saying no.

    Preston Manning really started the Republican Party of Canada as that is what the so called Conservative Party is now. What ever happened to all the red tories or the Progressive Conservatives after McKay stabbed Orchard in the back?

    Right now jack Layton is still the best leader but the NDP is trying to much to be the libs and cons. In 88 they had the most seats in BC, what happened? Why did they lose most of them?

    They need to get in touch with the working person and their roots. They need to speak up more and I know it does not help with the very bias so called mainstream media in this country and the fact a lot of manufacturing jobs have been outsourced and eliminated.

    The NDP needs to be talking how they would lower the deficit, Healthcare, and changing our voting system to some form of pro rep for starters. But any form of pro rep would hurt Libs, Cons and BQ so they won't talk about it.

    I support the NDP but sometimes they infuriate me to no end but I would never vote Lib or Con especiallywith the leaders they have now and I have always been a lefty…

  3. Anonymous says:

    More ideological gibberish, eh? It is clear that you don't respect the views of anyone but leftists. The party that represents the values of westerners, as well as very many easterners, is the Conservative Party.

    You can denigrate people, and claim superior knowledge, and that the Conservative Party has evolved from other things, but it still reflects western values.

    The best thing about this election is we will finally see a majority, Conservative majority, government.

    And no, I have never been a member of the Conservative Party – I am just a non-ideological Canadian living in the west who sees what is best for Canada.

    Not a do-or-die, leftist ideologue.

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