Chantal Hebert writes that the recent NDP and Conservative conventions provide a study in contrasts:
- The party that Harper is leaving behind is a different, more mature creature than the collection of fractious factions that came together under his leadership in 2003. A decade in power has made its members more inclined to pragmatism than to protest. Some of that was on evidence on the weekend as the Conservatives belatedly aligned party policy with Canadian legal reality on same-sex marriage and endorsed the partial decriminalization of marijuana.
- The federal NDP has never experienced the transformative discipline of power. Its dominant opposition culture has long been at odds with that of the provincial New Democrats, who have spent time on the governing side of politics. Many federal activists see the role of permanent underdog as more virtuous than that of top dog. They were always suspicious of Jack Layton and Mulcair’s efforts to make the party a more viable governing alternative.
- Harper’s political career ended just as abruptly as Mulcair’s, but it was voters who wielded the knife. The election defeat spared the Conservatives the kind of behind-the-scenes regicide attempts that leave hard-to-heal divisions within a political family.
- The issue of Mulcair’s leadership split the Edmonton convention right down the middle. The New Democrats left town after their convention with virtual blood on their hands. It was an unprecedented episode in the history of the federal party that will overshadow his succession.
At the moment, the NDP is in disarray. The Conservatives appear to be in better shape. But the upcoming leadership campaign could expose many old wounds. And, until the Dippers choose a new leader, it will be hard to chart their future.
However, it would be foolish to count either party out. Five years ago, Peter C. Newman wrote an obituary for the Liberal Party. No one should be writing obituaries.