Friday, November 25, 2011

On building blocks

I left Chantal Hebert's take on the NDP's leadership race out of this morning's roundup since it seems worth addressing in a separate post. And in some other contexts, I've been one of the first to push substantial policy discussion as a plus in a leadership race. But let's note a couple of reasons why the amount of policy discussed in the NDP campaign so far shouldn't be a concern.

In particular, the federal NDP figures to have far less need to question and challenge its policy direction than most opposition parties.

As I've noted before, one of the NDP's great advantages over its opposition competitors the past few election cycles has been the fact that it has a well-established set of values and policy priorities. And that consistency has allowed the NDP to build on its existing messaging from year to year - rather than zig-zagging between different and often conflicting policies while hoping against hope to present the right one at the right moment to capture the public's attention.

So it's understandable if the leadership race has been marked by a desire to keep developing from the NDP's existing policy foundation, rather than any particular interest in tearing down one of the party's existing advantages.

Of course, the leadership candidates are bound to disagree on at least some issues - such that there will surely be some substantive policy debate to come. And on that front, it's also worth noting that the leadership candidates have had reason to introduce themselves personally before going into detailed policy discussions. Which means that part of Hebert's complaint may come down the classic pundit trick of trying to wring a column out of anticipating the inevitable.

But more importantly, there's little evidence that the NDP's current set of policy priorities is anything but a recipe for continued growth. And so we shouldn't be surprised to see rather less of a challenge to the policy status quo than we would within a party which sees a greater need to redefine itself.

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