Thursday, August 13, 2009

The NDP By Any Other Name...

...Is still the NDP

As the New Democratic party meets for its national convention in Halifax, many within the party are looking to this convention as a historic turning point for their party.

In a column appearing on The Mark, Layton points to recent provincial electoral victories by the Gary Doer-led Manitoba NDP and the Darrell Dexter-led Nova Scotia NDP as reason for optimism.

"Premier Dexter’s victory is an inspiration to New Democrats from Halifax Harbour to Vancouver Bay. But the road to victory in Nova Scotia – just like Premier Doer’s in Manitoba – was long," Layton writes. "They built slowly with good candidates, sound new policies, and focused discipline. Critics often said they had no chance of winning. They say the same thing about federal New Democrats."

Layton insists that the NDP is pursuing a policy of incremental growth, and that it's incremental growth that will eventually help deliver his party to victory.

It would seem obvious to suggest that a plan stressing incremental growth could be measured by how incrementally the party grows.

As Dan Arnold reveals in a National Post Full Comment blog post, to some it would seem that the NDP has grown very little beyond its days as a far-left socialist party, if one were to judge by some of the resolutions being considered at the convention.

Among these are resolutions to decriminalize recreational drug use, subject banks and insurance companies to "democratic management", guarantee domestic supply and management of energy, repeal the Clarity Act, and institute measures to ensure the media represents the public interest.

In other words, resolutions to decriminalize drugs, nationalize banks and oil companies, regulate the media and repeal the one piece of Canadian legislation that prevents the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois from conducting a sovereignty referendum under deceptive terms.

It isn't very far from the NDP platform as established in the 1960s, let alone the NDP platform established in the 1990s. In other words, if this party is planning to change incrementally, many Canadians are still waiting to see the first change.

Among these "incremental changes" being promised by Jack Layton, the party is also considering a major one -- dropping the word "New" from the party name, and becoming simply Canada's Democratic party.

Michael Byers describes the proposed name change as "part of a larger revitalization project that focuses on developing cutting-edge progressive policies, engaging youth and minority communities, and strengthening the party's organizational capacity."

Yet as Byers himself later alludes, the name change seems to play much more into Jack Layton's fantasies of being a Barack Obama-esque figure in Canadian politics.

"New Democrats have found particular inspiration in Barack Obama's campaign, first for the US Democratic nomination, and then for the presidency itself," Byers writes. "There are significant similarities between the NDP and the Democratic party. Both work with labour unions and social activist groups that operate in both countries."

Yet Byers overlooks the fact that, while the NDP has bred hostility to conservatives into their party, the Democrats have made use of conservatives whenever it benefits them to do so. The increasing prominence of the Blue Dog coalition -- conservatives who ran as Democrats in electoral districts where Republican incumbents were vulnerable -- puts the lie to Byers' proposed thesis of the Democratic party as an ideological construct.

While the Democratic party has been unashamed to pursue fiscal conservatism, diluted social conservatism, and unembarrassed to embrace religion, the NDP considers all of these things to be anathema.

Unlike the American Democratic party, the NDP very much is an ideological construct. If Michael Byers thinks a surplus of Canadians will be fooled by a name change, he will likely find himself sadly disappointed.

Layton insists that "new policies fuel the work of our team in Ottawa."

Yet it seems that, during a national convention that is being portrayed as a turning point for the party, no new policies are on offer. On the contrary, it seems that the only policies on offer are the same old unelectable ideological drivel, while the only "incremental change" that is really on offer is an ill-fitting name change.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Walker Morrow - "The NDP in a Nutshell"

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