Thursday, September 24, 2015

New column day

Here, expanding on this post about the crucial difference between the types of change on offer from the NDP and the Libs.

While there wasn't room for this point in the column, I'll also note another rather important distinction between the two parties.

In the NDP's case, Prime Minister Tom Mulcair would have to take into account the real and consistent preferences of party members and supporters who have coalesced primarily around shared policy goals. And while the base is likely willing to be patient so long as the result is real progress, one can't imagine Mulcair being able to reverse course and argue against core promises like child care, pharmacare or corporate tax fairness without facing a serious push from within his party to keep his promises.

On the other hand, the Libs' activist base (such as it is) has demonstrated repeatedly that it will go along with whatever the leadership pushes.

On virtually all of the major policy questions discussed at the federal level in the last decade and in this election - ranging from child care to carbon pricing, corporate taxes to deficits - the Libs have embraced ever-changing and contradictory positions without taking a moment for self-reflection (let alone dissent). And if his party's response to a drastic change in position is inevitably to rally behind his cult of personality as quickly as possible, that means there's nothing at all grounding Justin Trudeau in the concept of actually following through on his temporarily-convenient positions.

To be clear, this doesn't mean we should brand leaders with the "flip-flop" label based solely on their sometimes answering questions with nuance or varying emphasis. (And both the Libs and the NDP have made too much of that claim at times.) But it does reflect the need for a leader and party to have some meaningful incentive to act progressively even when the campaign is over - which is the case for only one of the major political parties.

On that front, while the NDP may have moved past defining itself as the conscience of Canadian politics to the extent that implies a limited focus that falls short of creating the opportunity to form government, it at least stands out as a party with a conscience of its own. And so in addition to having a better plan for Canada's long-term progressive future, the NDP should also be considered more likely to actually live up to its commitments.

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