Wednesday, October 09, 2013

On legacies

Obviously last night's Nova Scotia election results represent a huge disappointment for the NDP. But they also offer some reason to discuss the brand being developed at both the provincial and federal levels.

The working assumption for both the federal party and most of the provincial parties close to forming government has been that the only way to win over voters is to appear steady, staid and safe rather than pushing strongly for many policy priorities. And that theory seemed especially likely to work for Darrell Dexter given Nova Scotia's precedent of offering every previous government at least a second term.

But now that Dexter alone has been toppled - in contrast to far more controversial provincial counterparts elsewhere over the past couple of years - it's worth asking whether more activist government might prove valuable on two fronts.

First, for electoral purposes there has to be some value to keeping a party base engaged and a set of values in the public eye. And while "base vs swing" is one of the perpetual debates for political strategists of all stripes, it's hard to see the Nova Scotia experience as evidence that balancing budgets immediately and promising social progress later is a winning combination.

And second, there's the question of what a government will leave behind after its stay in office is done.

It may be that the forces which put Stephen McNeil in power would have won out in any event. But if that's so, then it's worth comparing Dexter's stay in office to the much-discussed single B.C. term of Dave Barrett.

Barrett of course was criticized for galvanizing his opposition by passing too much legislation too soon - a stark contrast to Dexter's focus on balancing the budget and laying the groundwork for larger plans to be implemented in some future term.

But Barrett's signature achievements continue to play significant roles in the lives of B.C. citizens four decades later - while much of what Dexter accomplished in his single term figures to be gutted (or at best rebranded) in the next four years. And if a premier is going to have only one term in which to build a legacy, he or she surely figures to want to do something worth celebrating and remembering in that time.

All of which is to say that NDP leaders across the country would do well to remind themselves that what matters most is how a government's actions influence the lives of citizens - not how little a government does to draw attention to itself. And if there's real doubt as to how a worthy policy choice will play out politically, it's better to err on the side of positive action.


  1. I think if this teaches us anything it is that the NDP might as well stick to actually pursuing real NDP policies because by attempting to stand in the middle of the road they just get run over. Tom Mulcair, I fear, is learning nothing from such examples. For the party it is a zero sum game to attempt to simply be red liberals.

    1. Anonymous12:28 p.m.


      What arrogance! (re; "real NDP policies"). Who is teaching you?

      You know nothing of Thomas Mulcair (like most Canadians). Your "fear" is the product of hearsay & gossip, spread by Mulcair's scared rivals. Until the NDP initiates a campaign on his behalf, you should read about the man's true beliefs & intentions:

      You also seem to be confused about our party. Brian Topp (who many of you Rabble-types consider "real NDP") advocated exactly what the Dexter government successfully accomplished.

      One of these days, you should watch the last TVO panel Topp participated in (alongside that Liberal huckster Andrew Coyne). You would learn much about "real NDP" attitudes towards governance & debt. Inspired by Tommy Douglas, wise NDP leaders have always believed in a sequential path towards social democracy...and felt an aversion towards obscene levels of debt. We sabotage important goals by attempting to execute them all at once...and we refuse to be indebted to the very 1% elites & bankers who act as enemies of the common good.

      One of these days, you should also watch the last interview Charlie Rose conducted with Noam Chomsky. You would learn exactly why our social democratic brother, President Lula Da Silva, walked so slowly in Brazil. Since that interview (over the course of some years) - thanks to a series of steps - Brazil has been able to implement many of the social-democratic programs we have long wished for their raped nation.

      Dexter was on a similar path in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, he was not in possession of the strong marketing talent that our South American brothers possess and *share*. (* Brazil's ruling party - blessed by President Lula - sent their marketing team to aid President Hugo Chavez during his most challenging re-election campaign. They defeated their American funded & advised opponents, sustaining the contemporary South American independence movement that continues to thrive till this day.)

      Fire your teacher,
      Dan Tan

    2. How long has Thomas Mulcair been leader at this point?
      If anyone following politics to any significant degree knows nothing of him, I find myself wondering just whose fault that is and just whose arrogance might be a problem.
      Now as to Brian Topp . . . you may well be right that he's precisely the sort of go-slow-if-at-all defeatist type that is a problem for the NDP. I am finding myself deeply underwhelmed by his involvement in the BC election, for instance.

      But that doesn't somehow make Thomas "Read my lips: No new taxes on the rich" Mulcair, with his ever so nuanced stance on trade agreements, automatically "real NDP" or solidly progressive in his ideas. Mulcair has some decent policy positions, some gutless policy positions, and some policy positions where he's in my opinion sincerely wrong. It may be hard to determine which of these latter two is which in some cases.

      Incidentally, Mr. Tan, you seem to fancy yourself some sort of insider keeping the flame of the core NDP party line, trying to bring the (ignorant and wrong-headed) faithful back to the fold. I would suggest that for such a role, your rhetorical style needs some work. Have you ever considered Rogerian persuasion rather than attack? Your abrasiveness is likely to drive away the very people the NDP needs most.

    3. Anonymous5:22 a.m.


      You have experienced my presence (and wrath lol!) long enough to know that I am intolerant of ignorance & lazy judgements. Time permitting, I will always confront such displays with a review of the factual record...and some stern admonitions. I have no intention of stopping, despite your genuine & consistent concern for my "rhetorical style".

      Don't be cute. You know that within NDP culture...accusing one of ours for *not* being "real NDP"/"solidly progressive" is loaded & filled with meaning. You are purposely inciting distrust & attempting to alienate the target of your accusation from our base. This is not the Liberal party, where our politicians can dip in any infested waters...without consequence. Our party has always insisted on some semblance of purity (and I would not have it any other way).

      In a clever & roundabout manner, you posit that Thomas Mulcair is not "real NDP" or "solidly progressive". One would expect some litany of grievances to accompany such incitement. But as always, you arrive at these forums in poverty. By your own admission, you find it "hard to determine" which policy positions are "gutless" & "sincerely wrong".

      Thankfully, you have given us a tiny shred-of-evidence to work with: "Read my lips: No new taxes on the rich". You attribute quote to Thomas Mulcair, but I can find no record of him uttering these words (do correct me if I am wrong). What I did find was this:

      “Several provinces are now at the 50 per cent rate. Beyond that, you’re not talking taxation; you’re talking confiscation. And that is never going to be part of my policies, going after more individual taxes. Period. Full stop." - Thomas Mulcair

      So because Thomas Mulcair has ruled out personal tax increases (in favour of corporate tax increases), you believe it is legitimate to question whether he is "real NDP" or "solidly progressive".

      Show me, on record, where you questioned Jack Layton's "real NDP" or "solidly progressive" credentials. As you clearly *don't* know, Jack Layton held the *exact* same view & policy on this matter as Thomas Mulcair:

      Layton had learned by then that talking about raising personal income taxes or imposing an inheritance tax could cost his party seats in Parliament...Layton refused to wade into that issue, saying his party had not proposed any changes in this area. I asked if there would be any other personal-tax increases. Layton wouldn’t bite, not even for the rich. He believed that this wasn’t something Canadians were ready for.

      I [Linda McQuaig] recall talking to Jack Layton about this. A couple of years ago, I was keynote speaker at a CCPA conference and Layton was there. I was arguing for bringing back the inheritance tax in Canada. I was talking with him afterwards and he was saying, “No, no. We tried that and it didn’t work.” Well, I don’t think the NDP did really try it. In any event, Jack and I got into a friendly exchange about the inheritance tax and his response was, “Well, why don’t you run for the NDP?”

      I look forward to your squirms,
      Dan Tan

  2. Anonymous11:26 a.m.


    We are cruelest to those most responsible for our success.

    ...this is because "we" are typically ignorant & disinterested. While those "most responsible for our success" are typically quiet & humble. We aim our slings & arrows at them because they offer no resistance...while they refuse to plead a case for the sake of dignity & manhood.

    Good individuals, like our hard-working fathers, can get away with this aversion towards self-promotion. Unappreciative children are not the end of life.

    But for good political parties, like the NDP, such an aversion towards self-promotion can prove fatal. The consequences are grave, not only for ourselves...but for the future of our society.

    Our adversaries have the littlest to offer, but are always equipped with the tallest of tales. They spread their narrative without pause, through advertisement & their assets in political journalism. By the time we bother to engage the public (if at all), the children are already half-way into their death-march...lead by the latest Liberal or Conservative "Pied Piper".

    Our salvation lies in accepting the necessity & effectiveness of the *endless* political campaign. We may not have the wealth of our adversaries, but we are capable of exceeding them in artistic talent & innovative capacity. Let us take the chains off our marketing talent, and have them offer the public tales of heroes & villains, accomplishment & dereliction.

    Yours in repetition,
    Dan Tan

    1. This is all fine, but it doesn't engage the post at all, unless your point is simply that NDP leadership must never be questioned and therefore, whether right or wrong in what he said, Mr. Fingas shouldn't have said it.
      The vibrant political movements you, like me, are very fond of in Latin America, depend crucially on engaged and critical grass roots pushing the electoral parties to more active policy stances. I find it strange that your reaction to a piece of engaged and critical grass roots pushing the electoral party to more active policy stances, and in a reflective, intelligent, and very calm manner, is basically to tell him to shut up.

    2. Anonymous6:39 a.m.


      Cease this vile habit of manufacturing quotes & attributing them to others. You did this with Thomas Mulcair above, and now you attempt to do such a thing with me (re: "you basically to tell him to shut up").

      This has nothing to do with impeding "critical grass roots pushing the electoral parties to more active policy stances". Every NDP policy package is the product of grass-roots engagement & internal campaigning. If your cherished policy did not make the cut, it is your own fault for not working hard enough to popularize it among the base.

      Greg & I are sustaining a historical disagreement.

      Greg's post was written in an attempt to seek some constructive lessons out of loss. He has suggested that the NDP panic & consolidate whatever long-term plans exist - due to the threat of one-term government.

      What happens when the grass roots decides that the tortoise is wiser than the hare? Will you show up here & insist they are not "real NDP"?

      In fact, there will be different governing contexts & different paces of policy implementation. It is not long term policy planning that is the problem. It is the lack of consistent communication & marketing that cripples us. The public does not get the sense from us that things are on pace & improving, so they stray to other sources who manipulate them into discomfort.

      What do you think inspired the Conservative "economic action plan" marketing campaign? It is inspired by the "5 year plan" socialist marketing gimmicks from the south. The purpose of such campaigns are to (in a simplistic manner) instill a sense of progress & long-term vision in the populace (whether improvement occurs or not).

      Did the Nova Scotia NDP government relentlessly run ads highlighting the progress of their governing plan? Our successful (but wayward) Conservative cousins continue to do so - to great effect.

      Did they define their opponent as a threat to prosperity & stability - a year before the election? Our successful (and under-appreciated) Manitoba NDP party did so, securing victory despite the odds.

      Apparently not, as the media is reporting that Premier Dexter did not foresee this result. It was unfathomable to him that a government could be punished for successfully pulling a wayward province from the abyss & leaving it richer.

      As a result, the fruits of his hard work will now be squandered by the incoming & incompetent Nova Scotia Liberal party. All those upcoming & carefully planned NDP social investments will be replaced by the auction/highest-bidder governance-style typical of the Liberals.

      If we cannot secure this basic talent in the political arts...all our best-laid plans, short or long term...will be defeated & corrupted by those who revile them. If you think Dave Barrett's accomplishments are safe - you don't understand the long-term vision of the anarchists who have taken control of Canada's Conservative movement.

      Engaging enough?,
      Dan Tan

  3. I like both Mulcair and Topp and both have different styles. I also can agree with ensuring marketing but also what Greg is insisting on signature policies that can happen and not be undone after one term. Also we need to run on something that draws our imagination. I think Mulcair is great and speaks well.
    I also don't think we need to say we won't raise personal taxes on the extremely rich but just not our priority.

    1. I'll largely echo Jan, but also point out that the different goals aren't mutually exclusive. Yes, there's a need to work on branding and self-promotion - but that seems to me to be far easier work if we're proposing (or better yet, implementing) changes which can both excite a reasonably large group of core supporters to spread the word, and appeal to the general public once the message is passed along.

      And I do think it's always worth questioning whether we're doing enough on the first front - because a deliberate choice to be seen mostly as cautious and inoffensive both limits the likelihood that anybody will be able to speak up for our cause with any passion, and allows opposing parties to control the message about us.

    2. Anonymous9:04 a.m.


      What constitutes "exciting" & "cautious" is subjective. It is art & the public's interpretation that determines the visceral attractiveness of a policy.

      In real terms, there is nothing particularly exciting about the federal Conservative policy fact, it is retrograde & frightful. Yet they secured consistent victories. They manage this because what they offer the public is narrative, heroes, villains, and a confident *identity*. It is fantasy that marks ballots in our contemporary electoral culture...not study & thorough assessment.

      Your initial post confused the policy-making process & the electoral process. You see how some interpreted it. Rather than exert effort & campaign within the party...these lazy folks feel they can attribute any loss to the party's rejection of their particular policy fetish.

      I am sure that was not your intent, but you see how human beings can stretch a mile from an inch.

      Dan Tan