Sunday, June 28, 2009

On effective opposition

Yesterday, I pointed out one egregious example of the Star rewriting history to try to cut out the Libs' complicity in continued Harper government. But it's worth pointing out that the NDP itself could be doing more to point out both its own successes in putting together the progressive coalition, and the potential to do far more in the future in one which actually comes into being.

By way of example, the NDP is currently highlighting its results in Parliament since the last election, including a still-remarkable gap between the NDP and other parties' MPs in terms of bills, motions and questions. But with a few key exceptions which have received a reasonable amount of public attention, those don't figure to be familiar at all to most voters. And even the ones which are relatively well-known (Jim Maloway's Passenger Bill of Rights along with the motion and bill on EI) have yet to result in any substantive change in law - and don't figure to do so in the near future in light of Stephen Harper's obvious contempt for the will of the majority in Parliament.

So the NDP's current examples of effective opposition involve accomplishments which aren't familiar to most Canadians, and probably fall short of top-of-mind issues in any event. And it's hard to see too many potential voters being swayed by those types of considerations.

In contrast to the relatively limited public awareness of the issues now being emphasized, last winter's conflict between the coalition and the Conservatives was by virtually all accounts the high point for public awareness of Canada's political scene over the past few years. But the NDP's retrospective look at its accomplishments doesn't even mention the coalition, and includes the Cons' excuse for stimulus only alongside a clear expression of frustration with its failings:
Forced the Conservatives to respond to the economic crisis: When Conservatives tried to use the economic downturn to play politics while jobs were at risk, New Democrats led the opposition against them. As a result the government put forward a stimulus package – one that still doesn’t help a single new applicant get Employment Insurance, and has been too slow in creating new jobs.
Now, it's true that a month and a half of desperate attacks from the Cons and several more of scorn afterward - echoed by Michael Ignatieff as his excuse for keeping Harper in power - have made coalition politics into a difficult message to sell for now.

But the NDP's role in brokering agreement with the Libs and securing the Bloc's support would be useful in counteracting the current complaint that the NDP is unwilling to work with other parties in Parliament. And for the future, the NDP has more incentive than any other party in Parliament to keep open the possibility of a formal coalition. So it's hard to see why the NDP wouldn't try at the very least to defend the concept for future use while refuting the Libs' most recent line of attack.

Mind you, there's far more potential upside to be had if the NDP goes further in playing up the coalition as an example of its brand of cooperative politics. Presumably there are plenty of Canadians who are no more happy with Harper's government now than they were last winter when so many attended pro-coalition protests, signed up for Facebook groups, or otherwise showed their support. And if the NDP can tap into even a small portion of that enthusiasm - especially while the Libs go out of their way to try to distance themselves from any similar effort in the future - then the result would seem to be to open up a world of anti-Con swing voters who would otherwise be more easily persuaded by electability-style arguments.

Of course, the easiest path for now might seem to be simply to turn attention toward less controversial subjects. But given that the Cons don't seem to have any intention of abandoning the plan to build their next election campaign on the idea of coalition-as-boogeyman, it doesn't seem likely that the topic can be avoided anyway. So better for the NDP to work on claiming the positive results that were generated by the coalition (and better yet, that were missed out on due to Ignatieff's choice to roll over) by putting its at the top of the party's list of accomplishments.

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