Previously on The Plan, I explained why, despite the depredations of the current federal government, the Canadian political universe is unfolding as it should — or at least as I hoped it would when I was a young journalist in Alberta in the 1980s. The Harperites are doing what they can to decentralize the federation (a centralized federation being pretty much a contradiction in terms), while also making themselves so unpopular that we can already anticipate their being chased from office in 2015. And, even better, it is a genuinely left-wing party, rather than the Liberals, who are set to mop up after them.
I mentioned, though, that the NDP have myriad opportunities before them to screw things up. Now, so far in opposition they have avoided at least two of the pitfalls they might have toppled into: None of their young rookie MPs have embarrassed them, and they have elected a leader whom even Calgarians seem to like. (Okay, some Calgarians. Okay, one.) So there’s reason to suppose The Plan is in steady hands. Still, three years being a long time, here are a few things the NDP might also do, or not do, to bring it on home.
It would be nice if they didn’t piss off the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan too much. Not that they need them to get elected — their current strength everywhere else is enough. But if The Plan is to have any staying power, the citizens of those often aggrieved provinces need some assurance that they don’t have to continue to elect crazy Conservatives in order to have some sort of voice — any sort of voice — in Ottawa. To that end, Mulcair’s loose talk about “Dutch disease” and that sort of thing is not helpful — even if it happens to be true.
It would be a good idea for the NDP to resolve now to resist its historic centralizing tendencies — the bred-in-the-bone notion that social democracies require a strong central government, and that governing for the greater good necessarily means governing for the majority in Ontario and Quebec. Frankly, I have no idea if that sort of thinking still persists in the party, but if it does, bye-bye. For one thing, westward migration means that the central Canadian majority is rapidly diminishing. For another, there’s no point in electing an NDP government if they’re just going to act like the Liberals. The NDP needs to start working now on a much more inventive version of Canada — one closer to what its founders in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation might have come up with than the Broadbentian state planners of the ’70s and ’80s.
It goes without saying that it can no longer depend on its industrial base in southern Ontario for money and clout, that base being severely and sadly, but irretrievably, reduced. But it would be nice if the federal party would more aggressively court BCers, and even more directly tap into the power of this province’s green movement. In truth, there is really nothing the NDP can do to mess up its fortunes in BC at the moment, distaste for the Conservatives’ pipeline plans, and for the floundering provincial Liberal Party and its chirpy leader, Christy Clark, being so pervasive. But it is the Green Party that has the real momentum around these parts, based partly on Elizabeth May’s feisty performance, but moreso on the fact that BC has a lot of green stuff to protect from the likes of Enbridge and Harper. And its support is coming from every ideological direction. Strategically, the NDP would do well to head the Greens off at the pass, which would also have the effect of securing them a permanent base here (ie., one not based on political winds of the moment), and make them more genuinely, and persistently, a national party.
Now, I am well aware that when The Plan finally comes to fruition in 2015 — and it will, right? Right? — it will not guarantee Canada bliss forever. As noted previously, there is only so much Harper can do to really change the structure of confederation. We will be left with a Canada only somewhat less centralized than before. And the NDP will — despite all my free advice — almost certainly screw up, and in particular govern to keep its base in Ontario and Quebec.
The only real solution in the long-term is a little thing called “separation.” Not just of Quebec from Canada, but of Canada from Canada. Let the Albertans go off and join the U.S. or whatever, let BCers do their west coast thing, etc., etc. That’s The Real Plan. But that one will take more than another three years.
We’ll be on our usual summer break here at backofthebook.ca for the next few weeks. See you in September.
– Frank Moher is the editor of backofthebook.ca.