Saturday, August 27, 2011

The issue list

Following up on my post about the groups the NDP will want its candidates to reach during the upcoming leadership campaign, I'll follow up with a brief look at some of the issues that I'd also hope to see as top priorities for one or more candidates.

But first, let's note why it's particularly important for the NDP's leadership contestants to cover the field.

It presumably wasn't by accident that one of Jack Layton's last wishes for his party was a leadership race in the near future. And the timing makes sense in light of the Libs' impending leadership contest in 2013.

By running its own race quickly, the NDP can maintain and build as much momentum as possible following this year's election result and Layton's inspiring message. And if all goes well, it can add Canadians interested in any number of policy areas to its coalition by recruiting a new set of activists and issue voters during its leadership race.

But the flip side is that any key issue which doesn't see enough attention in the NDP's race will supply the Libs with low-hanging fruit as they try to decide what they stand for going into 2015. And so I'd hope we'll see at least one leadership candidate put some emphasis on the below issues to ensure that the NDP is positioned as the leading long-term alternative to the Cons in each of its actual and potential areas of strength.

Economic Development

It's the Harper Cons' signature issue for the moment based on a ruthlessly effective branding campaign with little basis in reality. But the NDP will need to dislodge that perception in order to topple the Cons - and the leadership candidate who shows the greatest ability to challenge it figures to have a huge advantage.


The NDP won't likely have to compete with any party besides the Greens in highlighting the devastating damage resulting from an increasingly unfair distribution of wealth. But it will have every reason to want to build awareness in the general public - and any candidate who takes up the cause figures to find plenty of support within the NDP's existing tent.

Health Care

No, it isn't likely to be the subject of too much policy debate within the NDP. But any candidate would be glad to be associated with the NDP's longtime signature issue - and there may be enough news of privatization and cutbacks to keep it on the front burner to the benefit of any candidate who's focused on it.


The conventional wisdom for the moment is that Stephane Dion's crash as Lib leader has taken the environment off the table as a viable election issue. But Dion's other weaknesses aside, the bigger problem with the Libs' handling of the issue may be that it demands long-term preparation and development which Dion was never able to undertake in the uncertainty of a minority Parliament.

That won't be a problem with four years until the 2015 election. And with the Cons figuring to be spectacularly short of their promises by that time with nobody to blame but themselves, now is the time for leadership candidates to make sure that the NDP is ready to lead the charge against their neglect.


The Cons seem to think they can make further inroads into immigrant communities even while evicting plenty of recently-arrived Canadians and shutting the door on many more. But a party's openness to new arrivals could make for a significant and positive point of distinction - and the NDP should be eager to take up the cause of new Canadians and would-be Canadians.

Human Rights

Another area where the NDP can already claim a principled position compared to its main competitors. But the Cons don't figure to change their own tactics of looking to justify abuses by slandering their victims anytime soon. And a candidate who uses the spotlight of the leadership campaign to point out that pattern figures to stand a great chance of winning over both NDP stalwarts, and others from outside the party.

Women's Issues

A huge part of the NDP's increased appeal among women in this year's election looks to have involved a combination of tone and viability rather than a great deal of change in the party's policy proposals. But a leadership candidate who can lead the way in calling for child care, support for family work and equal pay and treatment figures to find plenty of receptive ears.

Good Government

I'll set this up as a fairly broad topic which potentially encompasses both managerial competence and high ethical standards. But neither is a strength for the Harper Cons - and anybody running on the issue should benefit from plenty of news to help reinforce the theme.

Naturally, I don't see any one candidate being able to deal thoroughly with more than a couple of the above. But that only hints at the need to have enough candidates in the race to demonstrate the NDP's strength across the full range of issues which figure to unite and motivate the strongest possible progressive coalition.

So which candidates can combine an appeal to one or more of the NDP's target groups with a strong message on some of the above issues? Stay tuned...


  1. One issue that I don't think will be able to be ignored in both the Lib/NDP leadership races (even if both parties would prefer to try and ignore it) is the issue of "unite the left." I doubt any candidate for either party will run on a platform of openly calling for merger, but the issue will inevitably rise in some form, and candidates will have to take some form of a position. I see a few possible planks (it doesn't really matter which party the candidate comes from, the positions will probably be similar)

    -"An openess to discuss": As I said, I doubt any candidate would openly talk about merger, but someone could leave a hint be saying something like they are "open to discussion on any issue raised by the members, including a merger if that is something members identify as a possibility"

    -"Electoral co-operation": No formal merger, but perhaps electoral co-operation in some form, be it running joint candidates in some ridings, joint nomination meetings open to both parties memberships, or separate campaigns with a pledge to join a coalition after an election. This is the most broad category, and could include anything from non-competition in ridings to simply agreeing not to run attack ads against each other

    -"Status quo": Simple enough, no merger, no co-operation. Probably the most likely position to emerge (publically at least, behind the scenes is another matter)

  2. jurist7:18 p.m.

    I'll certainly be curious to see if there's much talk of it in the NDP race. But considering that the NDP is already closer to overtaking the Cons than it's ever been on its own, I'd be surprised if it's a huge topic of conversation - at least barring another drastic change of fortunes that calls that status into doubt.

  3. Right on cue...

    "If none of the candidates support the idea of a merger, Martin says he is prepared to throw his own hat in the ring."

    I do think it is interesting how rapidly the idea of a merger has gone ill-repute in both parties to something openly discussed by fairly high level figures in both parties.