Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Real Victory Is The NDP's

I know lots of people are depressed this morning thinking about four years of majority rule under the heel of the Nasty Party. It's true that they are a ghoulish and evil lot and they will try to shaft workers, the poor, women, Quebecoises, Aboriginal peoples, the disabled, peace-lovers, the environment and all things good and right in the world that I may have missed. They are, in short, scum.
Just so that you know where I stand.
But while the wingnuts who make up the Tory base may be gloating a bit this morning, my guess is that Harper - a sharper sort of scumbag - is rather more circumspect. Sure, he got his majority but only by poaching a section of right wing Liberals who were peeing their pants at the thought of an NDP federal government and only by promising them stable, moderate rule. Now, of course, Harper is an inveterate liar and charlatan and not prone to keeping his word or respecting democracy or its institutions. But he also doesn't want the Tories to be the next Liberal wipe-out in waiting. If he pushes too hard he has to know that he may win some short term gains but the result will be that the already fragile Liberal Party will complete its collapse as the remaining bulk of its members head to the NDP and a smaller number head to the Tories. If he unites the left under the umbrella of the NDP he will have polarized the country, shifted close to a majority of the electorate to the left and made it much less likely that the Tories will be able to ever win a majority again. All it would take is a breakthrough in the Prairies to put the nail in the coffin of future Tory majorities. So, he will have to govern carefully - I don't expect to see any great lurch to the right in the coming months, just more of his attempt to slowly transform Canada into a right wing dystopia of Seuss-like proportions.
Now, a lot depends on the ability of the NDP to really capitalize on their massive electoral breakthrough. And, in an ironic way, a Harper majority will potentially make that easier and allow the NDP time to consolidate its gains in Quebec, build a party machine to deepen its Quebec roots and pave the way for further gains. If that building process is accompanied by strong opposition in parliament and - even more importantly in my mind - with campaigning on the ground to involve the hundreds of thousands of people who have turned to the NDP, it could really transform Canadian politics. I'd be interested to know, for instance, what sort of relationship exists between the activists and leadership of Quebec Solidaire and the federal NDP. QS is a left-sovereigntist party in Quebec with one seat in Quebec's National Assembly and a presence to some degree across the province, plus several years' experience in holding together riding associations, etc. They are certainly to the left of the NDP and have an official position of being a party of both the ballot box and of the streets. One hopes that sensibility is widely held in the Quebec wing of the NDP because if two-thirds of the NDP caucus seek to build the party through a strategy of mobilizing and that infects the party in English Canada, things could get very exciting. In fact, in the short term my guess is that the NDP is about to become the country's fastest growing political party and it will be infused with idealistic youth and formerly cynical trade unionists. If the flux and the growth combine in the right recipe - something nobody can know at this point but about which we ought to be optimistic - we could be looking at a mass, renewed left wing movement and party.
There are dangers, of course - the union leadership are slow-moving, conservative bureaucrats with little interest in mass mobilizing or anything that disturbs "business as usual." The NDP leadership - many of them union bureaucrats themselves - is likewise conservative in this sense. Layton is a wildcard. He's no radical but he supports extra-parliamentary movements - he has spoken at innumerable anti-war events and Olivia Chow has gone the distance with the War Resisters Support Campaign both inside and outside of parliament. He might encourage this process, which would help it immensely, or he might try to follow a more Harper-esque model of containing the party's rookies by tightly controlling the flow of information and the model of party building. Hopefully the political situation in Quebec is dynamic and massive enough that it will push things forward regardless of what the party leadership thinks.
Harper will have nowhere near that dynamism from his victory and he no longer has the cover of a minority government to blame for his failings. The continuing experience of austerity and recession for the majority of Canadians will undermine Harper's credibility. Having a big, left wing alternative will facilitate that decline. That's why I'm not depressed.
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