The NDP returns to the wilderness

Few Canadian governments get this kind of honeymoon gift from the opposition parties. Halfway into their first year of mandate, the Liberal cabinet and caucus — with its large complement of rookie members — can be confident they will not face any serious challenges to power for at least the next two years.

Few Canadian governments get this kind of honeymoon gift from the opposition parties. Halfway into their first year of mandate, the Liberal cabinet and caucus — with its large complement of rookie members — can be confident they will not face any serious challenges to power for at least the next two years.

Unless they create one of their own, of course, which is always possible.

The official opposition Conservatives will spend the next year redefining their brand and looking for a leader. The NDP will be fronted by a lame duck who has less than half the support of the party for perhaps the next two years, while the party itself redefines its entire mission, never mind its public brand or finds a new leader.

Depending on how you read history, the Liberal Party spent perhaps seven years in the wilderness (under two different leaders) before sweeping the country in the last election with a newly-minted Justin Trudeau. But during those years, Parliament at least had an effective opposition, led by Jack Layton and by Thomas Mulcair, who was ousted as leader at the NDP convention in Edmonton last weekend.

Since 2011, and until the last election, the NDP could have called itself a government-in-waiting. Not today. Today, no party can say that, since government-in-waiting implies readiness to govern, and that requires a leader.

As for the NDP, government-in-waiting will be unavailable to them for a very long time. The party is once again a house divided.

I’m old enough to remember the Waffle. The NDP that good old Tommy Douglas built, bringing us universal health care, was split in the late 1960s by an energetic splinter group, which wanted to fast-track Canada into socialist nationalism.

The Waffle pushed a national debate on how Canada should grow into the future. For years after, high school debating clubs would enter contests wrangling over whether Canada should nationalize industries that had been taken over by American firms. (Alternately, we debated the morality of the Vietnam War. Good years.)

The Waffle’s move away from centre-left effectively kept the party far distant from power in Ottawa, though local conditions and popular leaders would gain them provincial governments.

As in Saskatchewan and B.C. historically. As in Alberta and Manitoba today.

As in no place, while the Leap Manifesto gains momentum.

Prophets always seem to come from the wilderness, and the centres of power seldom like what the prophets have to say. But what the supporters of the Leap Manifesto have to say, at least needs to be heard.

If our high school debating clubs are not already wrangling over how Canada should be facing a future affected by climate change, they should be. (That is, if high schools in Canada still have debating clubs.)

The Leap Manifesto brought to the NDP’s national convention in Edmonton proposes a fast-track to an energy future that does not use fossil fuels. Like, at all. It proposes that no government should approve, much less put money into growth in infrastructure to develop and transport more bitumen, oil and natural gas to market. As for coal, well, those days are over.

Which puts the most recent and popular provincial NDP government, and its new star leader in a serious crimp.

High school debaters should be doing this, but no official in the Alberta government is going to seriously consider stranding our natural resources for the mere sake of saving the planet on Canada’s behalf. Not going to happen.

Proponents of Leap strive mightily to reinforce that their manifesto is just a discussion document, not a party platform. But calling it a manifesto implies future action. It does not wonder aloud what we should be doing or ask for your agreement. It proposes policy.

Thus, it’s totally non grata in a province that supplies (or could supply) energy self-sufficiency for the whole country. Premier Rachel Notley called the document naive and tone deaf.

One can excuse naiveté in a discussion paper. Tone deafness is death to a political party.

The NDP faces real challenges in Manitoba, which will have a provincial election April 19. The Leap Manifesto is, at the very least, trouble for the NDP government in Alberta.

The wilderness beckons the party once again. That’s where the prophets come from.

Good news, for now, for the Liberals in Ottawa.

Follow Greg Neiman’s blog at Readersadvocate.blogspot.ca

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