Canada’s parliamentary left is becalmed. In fact, on major policy issues and in opinion polls, it’s been sitting still for so long that its paralysis is seldom noted. Strangely, the trouble-makers, the dreamers, in Canadian federal politics are invariably called conservatives.
Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, aims to come in second in the next election while his Quebec lieutenant, Thomas Mulcair claims the NDP can work with anyone “asking for a more progressive form of government.” Mulcair suggests progressives parties should put a “little water in their wine.” At the same time, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sees the Liberal Party as the “big red tent” of those bygone days when there were no third parties to confuse things.
Tents unfurled and watered wine, however, are not the battle cries of confident progressives out to change Canada—a country with enviably means and a long list of reasons to try new directions. A tent is a third rate shelter if you have no plans to move to new markets. And watery wine serves no purpose if the guests are simply bored.
The obstinacy of the left’s divided leadership isn’t the fault of Canada’s political culture. Since responsible government, some 170 years ago, Canadian politicians have been forming alliances to create national parties and governments. Ideas have mobilized Canadians many times before. Indeed, Harper’s Prime Ministership is damning daily tribute to the success of those political activists who risked their customized political turfs for the larger prize—in their case, uniting as one national party to break the dominance of the Liberal Party and put conservative ideas into office.
Furthermore, without the conceit of today’s parliamentary opposition, they acted without pretending they automatically represented nearly two-thirds of the electorate.
Ignatieff sympathizers in the media shrug: nothing done by the oppostion matters for much because governments defeat themselves. Click on: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/life-cycle-of-an-opposition-leader/article1848365/
It’s not true, however, that opposition leaders need only stay fit and inoffensive. The last string of Liberal majority governments was mightily assisted by the division of the centre-right into the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties. That Liberal government didn’t survive for long after the conservatives united. Also, an opposition that demonstrates—in its policy choices and in the issues it fights—the characteristics of a winning alternative government can force an incumbent to take fatal risks.
A challenged government and a competent challenger can move the electorate closer to that alarming conclusion: it’s time for a change.