Like everyone else, the NDP’s surge caught me by surprise. At the outset of the campaign, I was predicting a Liberal minority government, with an outside chance of a Liberal majority. My sense was that Harper had only one card to play – fear of a Coalition – and this fear card would drive Canadians toward the alternative. I didn’t suspect the alternative would be the NDP.
Of course, I have no idea who will come out on top on Monday, but on the off chance that the NDP gets a sniff at government, I thought it might be useful to come up with a list of reasons why we don’t necessarily have to fear the descent of a socialist horde. An NDP government (and, again, such a thing seems far, far from certain from the Saturday morning before the election) could govern poorly, sure. Inexperience could mess things up. But it would not be an unabashed disaster for Canada; life would go on as it has lo these many years.
Right on the big issues
The three biggest issues of the past several years were the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, the financial meltdown and the resulting, shall we say, economic hardships. In all three cases, the NDP had the soundest policies, and it would be nice to see this rewarded. On Afghanistan, the NDP has consistently advocated for Canada’s withdrawal from a war we have no hope of winning (with winning redefined every day) in a land we do not understand. The Harper government’s position on the war has been infinitely malleable, as has the Liberals’. At first, withdrawal was called “cut and run” and Jack Layton’s patriotism was questioned by the Conservatives (the shameful “Taliban Jack” insult). Then, it was on the table, and now I’m not sure what the Liberals or Conservatives see the end game as being.
On the financial meltdown and the recession, the NDP historically is a strong proponent of sound financial regulation, which is what saved our bacon while other countries’ financial sectors were getting trashed. And on the recession, of all the parties, the NDP is most open to the type of government stimulus spending that is necessary when private demand is in the tank.
A history of pragmatism
His time on Toronto City Council and as leader of the NDP has revealed Jack Layton to be a pragmatist. He will work with whomever he can to get something done. In a minority-government situation, this would translate into a functional minority Parliament, which would be cause for celebration in and of itself. It also means that Layton would likely focus on moving forward achievable policies, not pie-in-the-sky revolutionary changes. Canada will not become the Union of Canadian Socialist Provinces.
A more responsible party
For me, the main reason why giving the NDP some responsibility would be a good idea is that if absolute power corrupts absolutely, so does a lack of power. When you never have any responsibility, you can say anything you want, secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t really matter. The NDP’s election of Layton, a man with practical governing experience, as leader was a step toward tempering ideals with experience. Placing NDP members in positions of power and influence would help the NDP to think about what their policies mean in terms of actually governing a country, and that can only be a good thing for the country as a whole.
So: right on the issues, a pragmatist at the helm, and the potential to allow a political party to mature. There’s your case for why you shouldn’t fear an NDP government.