As some of my readers know, I’m always interested in articles that highlight how all the political parties in Canada (and the US?) have become conservative. Not necessarily in the sense that they want to roll back government, but in the sense that they cannot not imagine some new future.
I think the classic example of that in Canada is the NDP which seems stuck in trying to remake the country as it was in the 1950s. This opinion piece in the Star by McMaster Assistant Professor David Goutor touches on the theme of a conservative NDP party, to scared to take a stand.
At the most basic level, today’s NDP is a truly remarkable phenomenon: it is a fourth-place party, usually stuck in the teens in the polls, and purporting to represent the most marginalized groups in society – yet it has become stubbornly risk-averse, acting as if it has too much to lose to speak out strongly on many key issues facing the country.
When it comes to strategy, the NDP was certainly bold in lunging for power through the coalition. It also has a notable amount of talent in its parliamentary caucus, with even right-wing commentators praising NDP MPs for being knowledgeable and performing effectively in parliamentary committees.
But when it comes to the party’s main policies, a mind-numbing blandness has set in. There are few instances where the NDP has boldly taken a controversial position on a key issue.
If you have visited the NDP’s website frequently in the last couple of years, you were much more likely to read about credit card rates, bank fees, and insurance premiums than central economic, social, or foreign-policy questions.
A particularly deep part of the NDP’s rut is that avoiding controversy has become to be seen as the “pragmatic” approach. Standing out on major issues, meanwhile, is viewed as the “radical” approach that will keep the NDP on the fringes. But if pragmatism means anything, it is paying attention to results. The results of the recent “pragmatic” approach are in, and they are dispiriting.
I suspect (but could be wrong) that Goutor would disagree with my and Taylor’s neo-progressive thesis and that our understanding of why we believe the NDP are conservative are markedly different. My assumption(potentially deeply flawed) is that I’m sure Goutor wishes the NDP was more aggressive in re-invoking the 1950’s (a more planned economy, closed off from the world with labour forming a bigger part of the pie) But the fact is, for many Canadians going back isn’t desirable, moreover the party doesn’t know what going forward means and so is flailing around in the present, going after small wins without a grand vision appears to be the order of the day.
This isn’t to say the other parties are significantly better off, the challenge is just more noticeable with the NDP.
Postscript – I notice the NDP never got around to debating the motion about the name change. My sense is that this means it got killed… in the way you’d expect from a democratic party, by procedural means.