Friday, October 11, 2013

At The Mercy Of Vengeful Gods?

Gerald Caplan wonders, in today's Globe and Mail, why the NDP has such a hard time establishing itself outside the prairies. Darrell Dexter's defeat on Tuesday follows a pattern:

It’s not entirely easy to explain, but there are clues. For the four provinces besides Nova Scotia that have ever elected NDP governments, two completely opposite electoral patterns emerged over the decades. In the agreeable tradition, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the NDP wins repeatedly. In the lamentable tradition – BC and Ontario – either the NDP premier or the entire government is gone after a single term. Nova Scotians chose the wrong tradition.

And, though the pattern is clear, the reasons behind it aren't so clear:

All Darrell Dexter needed to do was to discover the Manitoba/ Saskatchewan secret and B.C. and Ontario’s Achilles heel. But here’s the rub. No one knows what works and what doesn’t. Each leader (even Bob Rae, back then) was fully committed to the party’s ideals of social justice and equality, although implementation depended on circumstances. Saskatchewan’s political culture has as many differences from Manitoba as it has commonalities. Nova Scotia, like every province, has its own distinct political traditions. And it’s not clear that the Saskatchewan NDP’s secret even works for Saskatchewan any more.

Certainly part of the explanation has to do with circumstances. Both Bob Rae and Darrell Dexter came to power at the beginning of deep recessions. Perhaps like the Greeks, the Dippers are at the mercy of cruel and petty gods.

It's a conundrum for Tom Mulcair. Will his party follow the prairie tradition or the other tradition? Certainly, Stephen Harper would like to see Mulcair succeed. The bane of his existence is the Liberal Party of Canada.

 But where the New Democrats go from here is anybody's guess.


Danneau said...

Having lived through a couple of NDP administrations in BC, it seems clear to me that the underlying philosophy of the party is at odds with the ways and means of the economy: the game is gamed, and, with the advent of various "free trade" agreements, even moreso than it was back in the Barrett days. Additionally, most voters (and a ton of non-voters) see economics and politics within a very narrow band of the spectrum of possibilities and are unwilling to wait for results, to back up from a blind alley to perhaps find a different kind of prosperity under a different, more equitable model. The New Democrats have failed miserably to educate themselves and their constituents as to the possibilities, the difficulties and the outcomes that are inherent in what ought to be the NDP platform, and seem content in most situations to play politics in an arena where they are outspent, outplayed, and out lied by more traditional parties. New Democrats under Harcourt/Clark/Miller/Dosanjh moved so far to the middle that they were no longer distinguishable as a party of social justice and economic equity, ergo sure losers when the business community to whom they were trying to cozy knew that they could do much better under a Liberal banner. Mulcair has already moved out of the progressive envelope in the mostly vain hope of maintaining opposition status, let alone forming government.

Owen Gray said...

It seems to me, Danneau, that the NDP had more influence when it was the third party.

Pensions, public healthcare, labour reforms were all pushed by the NDP and adopted by parties which wanted to appeal to NDP supporters.

Now the party looks and sounds like the other parties.

Danneau said...

I couldn't agree more, and left a note to that effect over at Grant's place at powellriverpersuader re: a Robin Matthews piece about Democratic Socialism. I suspect also that the NDP influence as third party stemmed from having ideas and policies that were worth promoting and defending, material that seems to slide to the back of the desk and the bottom of the heap when the get a whiff of power. Sad. Sad, too, it is that so few citizens are no longer capable of recognizing sound social reasoning when it jumps up at them and shouts "Boo!" Oh, wait, Dancing With The Stars is on, gotta go! (Not so much)

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps Susan Delacourt is right, Danneau. Party leaders no longer develop policy. They direct a marketing strategy which appeals to the lowest common denominator -- self interest.

The old NDP had a vision of what the nation could be. Now it -- and the other parties -- tell voters it's all about what they want to buy with their votes.