With the center-left split down the middle, the New Democratic Party will have to look as hard as the Liberals at its clichés and policies if they hope to lead a viable, national alternative to the Conservatives in the next election.
Jack Layton is Leader of the Opposition today largely because he caught on in Quebec. However, that accomplishment will be a will-o-the-wisp for Canada’s oldest protest party, if he fails to define properly his relationship with Quebec. As a Canadian leader, he—along with the Prime Minister—has a dual responsibility to do politics and serve Canadian unity at the same time.
So far, Jack Layton is still acting like an affable lobbyist.
Last week, he confessed that he would respect a referendum on Quebec independence that produced a 50% plus one vote in favor of independence—on a question designed unilaterally by the Assembly of Quebec.
His explanation was sparse: it is “official” party policy – a policy that was adopted by the General Council of the NDP in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 2005.
“Quebec’s Voice and a Choice for a different Canada” deserves close attention by federalists and those who hope to shape the NDP into a viable alternative national government.
Consider as well these statements in the Sherbrooke Declaration:
Philosophical roots: “The New Democratic Party, unlike the Liberal or Conservative Parties, believes that society cannot be based solely on the primacy of the individual. We have to rethink the commonalities between a new vision of social democracy and a new vision of federalism. That necessary process has to be based on the principles of common good, collective rights, democracy, social and political involvement, respect for communities of origin, solidarity, co-operation, etc.”
Asymmetrical federalism “We acknowledge that Quebecers’ sense of belonging to Canada is different from that of a majority of Canadians….who see the provinces playing a secondary role.”
Social transfers: “The right to opt out with compensation applies . . . where the federal government intervenes in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction (in particular health and social services, housing, municipal infrastructure etc.) In such cases, no conditions or standards should be applied to Quebec without its consent.”
Quebec self-determination: “It would be up to the Federal Government to determine its own process in the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling and international law, in response to the result of the popular consultation.”
What has happened to the Canadian left’s most outstanding and, yes, noble impulses?
- What happened to their defense of individual civil rights and their assertion of the equal worth of each individual against abuse by majorities as well as old-line governments?
- When did the individual and voluntary co-operation stop being the foundations for social-democracy in Canada?
- When did the other provinces become inferior political arenas for progressive politics?
- How can one province, and not all the others, get blank checks from Ottawa? Are they somehow less competent and less accountable to their citizens?
- Exactly what social democratic or constitutional principle constrains the Parliament of Canada from playing an aggressive role in upholding a federal Canada in Quebec?
The Clarity Act—defining Parliament’s direct interests in any conceivable negotiated breakup of the union—has withstood five national elections and three different governments. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms—defining individual political rights that transcend all elected assemblies, including the National Assembly of Quebec—has the support of the vast majority of Quebecers. Neither of these documents graced the seven pages of the Sherbrooke Declaration.
Yes, the whole damn issue is a nuisance; the Sherbrook Declaration only came into existence as ploy for what was a fourth rank federal party.
Nevertheless, a document that enfeebles Canadian federalism, possibly on the eve of another Quebec election, surely can’t stand as the policy of a federalist Official Opposition. Unless, of course, Jack Layton is willing to assign some of his more complicated responsibilities to the interim leader of the Liberal Party, Bob Rae.