Samuel Taylor Clemens, (Mark Twain) is famous for many pithy expressions. One of the best known is: “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
This morning, with respectable dailies predicting the death of the New Democratic Party, Twain’s phrase seems appropriate and relevant. The party, consistently and persistently the donor of many highly valued Canadian social policies, is neither dead nor dying. Consider it rather in a reflective stage of transition....
On the two major issues on the surface of much of the reporting, seemingly in unresolveable conflict, the Notely proposal for a national pipeline and LEAP, there is no need to consider the two irreconcilable. It will take at least a decade to ween the country off fossil fuels, and a pipeline from Alberta to the east, providing Alberta with markets for its crude will go far to alleviating the labour/tax/internal revenue/budget deficit gordion knot faced by Notley’s government. It make take two to three years to complete such a pipeline project, although much of it has already been built and needs merely an expansion, but it is in the national medium-term interest, and LEAP does not need to block or even impede its construction. It will also take a few years to mount a full-production renewable energy industry and economy, including both public and private sectors, before Canada and other developed economies will be able to consider themselves free of fossil fuels.
Let’s not become trapped in the media mania for both conflict based on Manichean thinking that feeds that ratings monster. If ever there was a time when merging models, hybrids, were seen everywhere, it is this time. And while a political party is not a car, nor a beverage, not a cereal nor a salad, if this party is to survive and thrive, it will have to embrace both at least one pipeline for Alberta crude and a two-year discussion and debate of the LEAP Manifesto at the constituency level. The new party leader, whomever that turns out to be, will be expected to put forward a plan to integrate plans for short-and-medium term attention to the fossil fuel sector, demonstrating, as Rachel Notley urged on Saturday, that Canada can be a leader in both energy production and protection of the environment. (Surprisingly, Thomas Mulcair could have but did not present such a piece of work in his ‘campaign’ speech on Sunday in Edmonton. Had I been a delegate, I would have expected such a plan from him, at least some options around the how and the dovetailing of the timing and the expenditures, as well as the language that the party might consider adopting, when presenting the “rebirth” of the compromises that must precede and accompany the future of the party’s creative initiative.)
Some pundits are advising Ms Notley to divorce the national NDP, given the convention’s adoption of that LEAP resolution to discuss and debate, for two years. How clearly such punditry illustrates the bias of those making such recommendations. Clearly, there is something in the water in Alberta that seems to provoke mental lurches to leaving the national umbrella of the political party when that party does not comply with the wishes to Albertans. Of course, one might expect the National Post to declare the LEAP Manifesto a cockamimee scheme, almost suggesting it is ‘communist’, as the right-wing preferential option to dismiss whatever they wish to trash.
In every political party, there are memes that oppose one another; such tension is endemic to a full consideration of the inevitable requirement to ‘go to the people’ when the election writ is dropped. In the Liberal Party there are some who represent the social policy options that include increased spending, and the more small ‘c’ conservative sector who favour balanced budgets and lower taxes, as a prerequisite for enhancement in social programs. That is not impossible to manage, by the party leaders; in fact, leadership demands that such forces be balanced, given surges for one and then the other, as the developing rhythm of the government’s mandate. No symphony could be considered a critical success if it were written only in the treble clef, or only for the strings and the percussion. The diversity of the instruments, their unique offering in both rhythms and melodies, comprise all worthy musical compositions. Governments must develop and then display competence to know when to bring one instrument, or theme, or rhythm to the fore, while holding others in reserve, and political parties as the instruments of government are expected to do likewise. And the media’s insatiable appetite for an impasse of paralysis with both sides frightened to act fearing the response of their opponents, both within their own party and in parliament itself has to be discarded, ignored and even soundly defeated within the caucus and the cabinet, and after throughout the country.
There are so many different themes, rhythms, and voices to a symphony, and every day the news offers up another incident, accident, trauma, natural disaster, terrorist attack, data dump, epidemic, fire, all of them implicating the federal government. Contingency funds, and the size of those funds, are just one measure of the foresight of a government. So to are the qualities of adaptability, flexibility and readiness that characterize the government’s responses. Just because the current government has promised to bring clean drinking water to indigenous peoples across the country in five years does not mean that the Canada Revenue Agency will not be busy simultaneously searching for and finding and even arresting tax dodgers with their budget of some $400+ millions, nor that the minister of the Environment and Climate Change will not be sitting down with both provincial governments and energy sector executives to hammer out some terms for concerted action to curb national carbon emissions, hopefully with specific and elevated standards for the next decade, and quarter century. At the same time, the Minister of National Defence will be shaking heads in his department and in the private sector to shake out some novel and pragmatic ideas for destroying ISIS, combating the next pandemic, and protecting the Canadian Arctic from potential environmental and military incursion.
Let’s stop attempting to pin the party policy to a cork board, as if it were a dead insect awaiting some zoological class in high school to pull it apart in order to observe how it eats, moves, reproduces and eventually dies, and then to name all those pinned parts, in preparation for the next naming test. Not only can LEAP and pipelines be accommodated for a short to medium term (perhaps 5-10 years), but not indefinitely, it they are irreconciliable, then such a diagnosis would render the NDP incapable of function in the modern era. That would and could only lead to an existential crisis for the party, and a confinement to the museum and the artifacts of the many policies, speeches, motions, votes, programs and relegate the party to the ash heap of history.
If the party is to “never give up’ as Ms Notley urged, and if it is to honour the shoulders upon which it treads, (shoulders that include Tommy Douglass, Roy Romanov, Dave Barrett and Ed Shreyer, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, James Laxer, Mel Watkins and The Waffle Movement,.....and the list continues.... ) then accommodations, compromises and the national needs, including the national dreams have to find a legitimate place inside the conversations, and inside the mind-sets of the people who not only aspire to lead the party in the next decades, but also those who might and must be attracted to join the party.And, at the national office, there have to be structures and processes that constantly monitor new ideas, both for policy and for process, to enhance how all instruments of connectivity are deployed, and the focus cannot and must not be exclusively ‘when are you going to donate again?’....That has to be one of the surest paths to self-defeat, before even considering the policy options and the methods to make them merge and work together