Even in springtime in Canada they worry about things getting out of hand.
After giving Stephen Harper a majority government, the second most important feature of the May 2nd national election was the extraordinary success of federalist New Democrats in Quebec. Because of their success, the NDP will form the Official Opposition in the House of Commons; some 70 or so of its members were elected for the first time.
The election involved many surprises and, consequently, has been hard on political observers in Ottawa. They need to be able to make mature guesses about what will happen next. So, they have real problems with the exotic and the new.
They’ve settled on three predictions for now: (1) Harper may be more relaxed with a majority but he isn’t going to change (2) Liberals won’t merge with the NDP because they’re different, and (3) the Quebec caucus is potentially a lethal management problem for Jack Layton.
Let’s concentrate on the freshest. The two week old Quebec Caucus of social democrats hasn’t been branded yet. However, it is already seen as a looming problem—a crucial test of Jack Layton’s ability to lead.
This worry about managing neophytes in Ottawa has a long inglorious tradition. Twenty years ago it turned on the Reform Party “cowboys from the West” and saw that they were poorly managed. Now, after demonizing Stephen Harper as a control freak and saying the election was about democracy, this concern for order is back in Ottawa with all its fussy passion.
The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson warns Layton that his Quebec lieutenant Thomas Mulcair is known to not be an easy person to manage:
“Already, it’s obvious that work needs to be done to make sure Mr. Mulcair remains in step with the leader and the party.”
The National Post’s Kathryn Blaze Carlson writes reassuringly:
“NDP TO GROOM AND HIRE
“With fresh faces comes a need for training, and the party will continue prepping its 70 or so rookie MPs for their parliamentary debut. New MPs will rotate in and out of Ottawa, meeting with House of Commons officials for orientation sessions.”
In light of the suicidal group-think that lead to the election of May 2, political handlers and pundits would be better employed de-briefing these first-time politicians about what is actually going on in the country.
Fitting them into the political culture in Ottawa is hardly Canada’s number one problem. And treating a whole new class of elected members as “rookies” betrays a shabby establishment bias.
All too quickly, those without strong views of their own will learn to toe the line. And those few who will make a difference—who will lead or cause trouble or both—will learn the formal rules as well as the others.
Jeffrey Simpson has been around long enough to observe that discipline grows in organizations and individuals the closer they get to power. Ambition is the surest source of discipline. Free-lancing within the NDP and bickering with Liberal Party seatmates will not be prevented by better training. They’ll act like the professionals the media like to cover when they see a chance to win power.