Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On priorities

In addition to its eminently sensible proposal to give effect to the rights of indigenous Canadians, the NDP also introduced another bill yesterday - and one which looks to raise a few more questions.

Lest there be any doubt, that question doesn't have to do with whether Craig Scott's bill setting ground rules for a future referendum is an improvement on current Canadian law. The "go ahead and hold the vote, then we'll tell you whether it counted" philosophy underlying the Clarity Act has always been bizarre at best, and the framework set out by the NDP replaces that indecision-as-policy approach with genuinely clear standards and processes.

But I do think it's worth asking whether Thomas Mulcair was closer to the mark in his initial response to the Bloc's usual crisis-mongering than in the announcement of the bill:
Monsieur le Président, j’aurais aimé me lever aujourd’hui pour parler d’économie, d’emploi, de pauvreté, à savoir des enjeux qui préoccupent vraiment les gens. Cependant, ce n’est pas ce dont le Bloc veut nous parler aujourd’hui. Pour le Bloc, il vaut mieux ranimer les vieux débats du passé.
Il faut croire que le Bloc n’a pas reçu le message envoyé par les Québécois lors de la dernière élection. C’est une élection où, je le rappelle, le NPD a reçu un appui record et un mandat historique à Ottawa. Le soir du 2 mai 2011, quatre millions et demi de Canadiens ont voté pour la vision rassembleuse mise en avant par mon ami, Jack Layton. C’est une vision d’un Canada plus inclusif, plus vert, plus prospère et qui respecte le Québec.
Now, I'm in full agreement that Quebec voters have consistently sent the message that they're long past tired of being badgered about hypothetical referenda rather than real issues - and that the NDP's success can be traced largely to its appreciation of that reality. But if Mulcair is right in recognizing that the only way to win a game of "Let's Bloviate About A Referendum!" is not to play - as I think he is - then it's worth wondering why he's choosing to take a turn at it.

Of course, there may be other strategic thoughts behind the introduction of Scott's bill. Maybe the hope is to lead the Libs' leadership candidates even further down the same path to allow Mulcair to frame them as remaining out of touch (in which case, mission accomplished). Or perhaps the intention is to present a single bill now as a marker to point to when the subject is raised later, while planning to turn attention back to more substantive issues at the first available opportunity.

Even if so, I'd still have some timing questions as to why that's being done right this minute, rather than after NDP members have had a chance to shape the party's direction under Mulcair. But more importantly, while the NDP certainly needs to think about how to position itself compared to its competitors, it also needs to keep its own priorities in order - meaning that the true test for Mulcair may be whether he keeps the NDP's focus on the issues he knows to be more important.

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