By Dave Brindle
Cousin Gordon and I – he, the country boy, and me, from the city – talked prior to his oldest son, Adam’s, birthday this winter.
“Adam turns 18,” Gordon said. “He’ll be able to vote.” His first thought wasn’t that his son was now eligible for a draft, or of his son’s plans to attend university, or that he could now look forward to his son moving out of the house. That Adam will be able to vote is all Gordon needed to say about his aspirations for his son.
Later, I said to Adam, an intelligent, talented, athletic, good-looking and well-liked teenager, “Eighteen, huh? You’ll be able to vote.”
“Yes!” He pumped his fist like he’d just scored the winning shot. In our family, the traditions of political roots grow deep in the rich, dark soil around Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It is in our genes, like the dirt worked into our jeans. Adam, and his younger brother, Greg, were taught by their father, who learned from my Uncle, who was raised by our pioneer grandfather whose father settled the prairie, that it is more important to defend democracy than your own end.
A few days ago, I posted:
Adam liked this. Now I’m not suggesting that my young cousin is casting his ballot for the NDP on May 2nd. It does seem he wants to rid the country of the Harper government, just as I do. Not that I would ever attempt to influence his or another’s vote, but really: Harper? (I do, however, insist that he, and everyone in our family, be a Yankee fan.)
I do know that his father and mother have raised him to make good decisions (like any teenager, he sometimes takes a few swings and misses before hitting the right one), with the freedom to choose. Sure, Gordon would prefer his son to vote Liberal, but he’d readily admit that decision is out of his hands.
I also know – as a native of the province that gave rise to the party under the revered Tommy Douglas – that the NDP can govern, and govern well. And, unlike the other federal parties and their provincial counterparts, the NDP is Canada’s one, true national party, born and raised in Saskatchewan.
Douglas’s CCF was formed by common Canadians who believed the Liberals and Conservatives weren’t ideologically equipped to relieve the real hardship that they suffered during the Great Depression. My dad, who road the rails during the Dirty ’30s, was a “Douglas man.” (If any of this is covering old ground then skip ahead.)
Under Douglas’s leadership and, later, Woodrow Lloyd, the CCF governed for 20 years “and established Saskatchewan’s reputation for innovation, balancing sound fiscal policy with enlightened social policy.”
With the brilliant Alan Blakeney as leader, the party (now the NDP) was just as bold in governing the province for 11 years — investing in its “abundant natural resources, establishing a number of new Crown Corporations including Saskatchewan Potash and SaskOil to ensure that the people of the province benefited from high resource prices. Saskatchewan’s NDP government was also instrumental in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution and the development in the Charter of Rights.”
When Roy Romanow’s NDP beat the Devine Conservatives in 1991 “the province was near bankruptcy and running a large deficit. Romanow’s first challenge was to balance the budget and restore the province’s fiscal health. Many tough choices were made as spending was cut and taxes were raised. By 1995 the budget was balanced and the government focused on many social justice issues, reaching agreement on Treaty Lands Entitlement, reforming the social welfare system, and introducing more progressive labour legislation.”
The values and beliefs of the federal NDP are framed within Saskatchewan’s neat borders and they inform anyone who calls the province home. Whether grudgingly or not, everyone from Saskatchewan has some socialism in their veins. Our numbers are vast and we are spread across this country. If you want proof, go to a Canadian Football League game when the Riders are the visiting team.
It is Canada’s young voters who have given rise to the completely unexpected surge in the NDP’s poll numbers. 100 seats?! As my friend at The Globe and Mail mentioned:
Is it? Think of it from Adam’s point-of-view. I remember being 18 and a member of the Saskatchewan Young New Democrats. I shared a dilapidated old house with former Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell. It was a flop-house within a few short blocks of the legislature where young social democrats from all over the province and Canada found a piece of floor, a plate of my famous spaghetti, and argued politics and partied. The NDP, not the house, was then and remains the anti-establishment party. It speaks to common Canadians. And, if I were to hazard a guess, more of us are common folk than we like to admit.
Not so with young Canadians. They’re fearless. They seem willing to take a risk that will shake this country out of its lethargy. To put it simply, for most Canadian young people, the NDP is not their parents’ party. And Jack Layton is more like the cool teacher they would invite to a party than their dorky dad. Layton is fearless. What else do you call a leader who has been campaigning full-out after prostate and hip surgery and is willing to re-open the constitution?
The kids’ world is the social network and their numbers are great. Why would it be any surprise that the majority of them are drawn to the social democrats? It’s socialism, online or off, and it’s clicking.
So Adam, take seriously this responsibility because your family fought for it. You come from a family that has always talked politics around the supper table and who has always voted. You come from a province that grows good things and great ideas. You’re cutting your political teeth in one of the most pivotal elections in Canadian history. And Adam, remember to tell your son or daughter the story.
Dave Brindle is a new media broadcaster, writer, and journalist living in Lund, B.C.