By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, November 1, 2011
Women are on a roll in Canadian politics. Along with Alberta, women have the premierships in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Nunavut. Sheila Copps is likely to be soon elected president of the Liberal Party.
Ms. Nash, a 60-year-old veteran of the labour movement who’s in her second stint as a federal MP, hopes to continue the trend. “She’s the Margaret Thatcher of the left,” one of her supporters offered dreamily. “That’s what the country needs.”
Ms. Nash is trilingual (English, French and Spanish), has an honours degree in French literature, and is pointed in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. To imagine, however, that a female union activist could some day replace Stephen Harper seems rather far-fetched. But that’s her dream.
In an interview, she said Canadians aren’t becoming more conservative, but the government has pushed the country to the right, polarized it, and created a big opening for the other side. Although her record suggests she is well ensconced in her party’s leftist tradition, she wants to broaden its appeal to the middle of the political spectrum. She is targeting a government that, she says, is “consistently siding with employers against the interests of average working people.”
Ms. Nash’s years of experience with grassroots movements and as a top negotiator for the Canadian Auto Workers union give her both a toughness and a capacity to bridge differences, she feels. While steely, she also sees herself as a rassembleur. “I am the type of person who likes to reach out to the other side and find a compromise. That’s my nature.”
But her entry into the leadership race gives the NDP two top-tier candidates from the union ranks (the other being Mr. Topp). This has the Conservatives’ divide-and-conquer strategists salivating. With the Liberals in opposition, they didn’t pay much heed to organized labour. But since the election, it’s been one broadside after another. The moves have included forceful tactics to prevent postal workers and flight attendants from striking, the promotion of a private member’s bill to demand greater financial disclosure by unions, and allegations that the NDP contravened financing laws by accepting paid advertising from unions at its June convention.
If this isn’t enough, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who’s been winning praise for her hard-line tactics, says she’s considering changing the Canada Labour Code so the economy will be defined as an essential service. Given that almost any strike could be said to affect the economy, such a move would give the government extraordinary arbitrary powers.
Should Ms Nash become leader of the NDP, as her supporters certainly believe she can, the other parties, especially the Liberals, would do well to take her very seriously. This is no Audrey McLaughlin, nor is she another Alexa McDonough. This is one tough, articulate and credible candidate. She has, in the parlance of the political chattering class, "gravitas" and every time she speaks, she makes sense, without causing a twisting feeling in the pit of the listener's stomach. For the NDP, Ms Nash would certainly elevate the credibility of the party, beyond the level that could be achieved, it says here, by either Mr Topp or Mr Mulcair.
For the Liberals, it would be more than a little auspicious given that the country would have a far right conservative party under Harper or one of his sycophant underlings, and a far left NDP, farther left than the party led by Jack Layton, provinding ample opportunity for the Liberals to re-capture the proverbial middle ground of Canadian politics.
John Turner, a former Liiberal leader and also a former, if brief, Prime Minister, recently interviewed by Peter Mansbridge on CBC's One on One, reminded his interviewer that back in the mid eighties, when he took the leadership of the party, it had no money, no policy and literally nothing in the pantry on which to build. So he had to build 'from the bottom up' while continuing to fend off the Chretien people who resented his having won the leadership over Mr. Chretien. "Today, it is much more difficult to rebuild the party, " said Mr. Turner in his recent interview, hoping that 'the party' will give full support to its current, interim leader, Mr. Rae, who, Turner acknowledged, "is doing a good job as leader."
Today, the Liberals have, it appears fromt the outside the Liberals once again have 'no money, no real policy proposals, except thoat articulated by Mr. Rae on the fly in his on-camera interviews, and in his party's opportunities during Question Period (which, according to Mr.Turner, has replaced full debate as the vehicle of expression of the work of the House of Commons, to the delight of the media, and to the detriment of Parliament).
If Mr. Martin is correct, that Sheila Copps will be elected president of the Liberal Party, there will be a vigorous initiative, probably several, to attract new members, new ideas, new funding proposals and new candidates, all of them in serious scarcity. The real danger is that the party will, once again, reach for some magic bullet, in selecting a leader as the only serious business it faces to regain the confidence of the Canadian electorate. Without money, and serious, long-term sources of that money, and without serious and connecting policy proposals, thought out, researched and both financed and articulated with a degree of professionalism and competence, and without candidates who can and do believe in and subscibe to the policy proposals...the Liberal Party is not going to rise from the ashes like the phoenix...and the work ahead is not for dilletantes. It is for serious, committed and roll-up-your-sleeves activists, not merely for political pollsters, and magicians, although a little magic dust would not hurt.