Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thursday morning quarterbacking after Monday's Canadian election

Post mortems are usually reserved for dead bodies. Autopsies are the work of pathologists, those specially trained and experienced medical practitioners who take tissue samples from the deceased and examine them under high power microscopes for their hidden “data base” of evidence of the cause of death.

In a nation’s political life, immediately following a long and exhaustive and exhausting  election campaigns, those who demonstrate interest take the pulse of their political party, its leader, its policies and its future prospects. And this space is dedicated to that process.

For the NDP, endorsed whole heartedly here, Monday’s results were dismal, disappointing and disheartening in their raw numbers. Beginning in first place, in opinion polls, the party and its leader could and did actually envisage forming the first NDP government in Canadian history. Cautious, promising a balanced budget, in order to neutralize the false stereotype of being in favour of high taxes and extravagant spending, the party promised a national day care program for $15/day, something they believed would attract many young families, and something already demonstrated to have worked in Quebec. Also prominent among their plans were tax hikes for corporations (not individual families, as promised by the Liberal for the top 1% of income earners), a withdrawal of combat forces from Syria and Iraq, a balanced approach to resource extraction and environmental protection,  a proportional representation system of electoral reform, abolishment of the Senate, a commitment to work with other parties, should a minority government emerge from the vote, and a commitment to oppose Harper should he form a minority government.

Their leader, Thomas Mulcair, a seasoned politician from his days as Environment Minister and senior civil servant in the Quebec Liberal government, a lawyer and one of eight children, spoke with energy and clarity and even showed signs of the father/grandfather he is, especially when capturing the mood of the country upon learning of the drowning of a young boy on a Turkish beach, one of hundreds of thousands of refugees, upon whom the then Conservative government had already turned its back, and that of the country. Deploying the nation as his contemporary court room, and the people/media/opponents as his jury, Mulcair was explicit and detailed in his presentation, pausing to be sure his audience heard each and every work, digested its meaning and refusing to sound “mushy” or uncertain, although the policies he articulated were certainly more left of centre than those of the Conservatives of the last decade. The courtroom legal beagle, however, suffered from a two-headed foil, in the form of first, the Liberal “happiness oracle” on one hand and the embittered cynic of the Conservatives.

It is not merely the policies of the Liberals (singing from the Jack Layton manuscript) that promised a protracted deficit for the next few years, with billions spent on new infrastructure, and restoring social programs gutted by the Conservatives, that swamped the NDP vote. It was also a capacity of the Liberals to couch their rhetoric in less legal, less bureaucratic, and less specific language, the language that permits “wiggle room” that is the life-blood of all politicians. The hard and specific edge of Mulcair’s legal presentation is not the stuff of the neighbourhood party on Saturday night. His arguments, his demeanour and his very presence, while filled with integrity, passion , conviction and authenticity, remained by their own parameters, somewhat aloof, detached and less warm and fuzzy than the ideas and their presentation by the Liberal leader. Sadly, as might have been predicted by some, the Liberals, having campaigned from the left, will now likely govern, as is their predilection, from the right. Had the NDP been elected, while promising a balanced budget, it would have, as promised, delivered a pharmacare plan to complement the National Health Act, restored that program to its highly warranted position of respectability and sustainability, while also imposing a decisive limit to the emission of carbon dioxide. Not at all beholden to the large corporations, as the Liberals are wont to be, the NDP would have faced much different winds off Bay Street than those that will greet the Liberals.

Not only were NDP television appearances more edgy, in their tone, but over-all the proclivity of the “brains” of the party to take the cautious middle road, in a what now appears in hindsight to have been a failed strategy, now only backfired in this election; it may well have set the party’s fortunes back decades, in terms of being able to envision and plan to form a national government.

There is a very fine line between the micro and the macro statements of both style and substance in a political campaign. Too close attention to the finer, nuanced points tends to make peoples’ eyes glaze over; and too many broad uncosted promises garners a legitimate scepticism, even cynicism among the public.

We have all had more than our fair share of cynicism from Ottawa over the last decade. Cynicism, liberally laced with anger, deception and talking points, was the last quality we sought from anyone or any party seeking to replace the previous government.

Unless the NDP is prepared to provide great national policies, for others to implement through successful election campaigns, in the future, it will have to be far more courageous and trusting of the generosity and the decency and the hopefulness of the Canadian people, and also be willing to be true to its principles and the historic place it has already carved out of the rocks of the political landscape, if it is ever to generate the kind of public support not only for its generally insightful and compassionate and farsighted vision and policies.

As for the Conservatives, their campaign is the work, as was the decade of power, of one man. And all Canadians have had done with that kind of arrogance from their political leaders. And, while Conservatives are our neighbours, they are not the most collaborative or negotiable or flexible of neighbours, just as they are not the most collaborative, negotiable, flexible or reasonable instruments of governance.

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