Sunday, September 20, 2009

On transformed strategy

The CP offers at least some answers to my questions as to what the NDP is hoping to accomplish by prolonging the current Parliament. But while it's right to note that the strategy seems to be based at least in part on precedents which led the party to power in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, there are some key distinctions which seem to have been glossed over:
(T)here is more to the transformed NDP strategy than the EI bill and Liberal tactics, say party insiders and analysts. The seeds were planted at the annual convention in Halifax in mid-August.

There, party members focused intently on how to win. They talked about putting an end to the political games and voting for things that they actually wanted to happen. And they took a hard look at how provincial NDP Leader Darrell Dexter managed to work his way up to be premier of Nova Scotia.

The events of the last week "are an example of Jack Layton trying to take a page from Darrell Dexter," said Anthony Salloum, program director at the Rideau Institute think-tank and a former staffer for Alexa McDonough when she led the NDP.

Salloum, who is also close to Dexter, said the Nova Scotia premier had a patient, pragmatic approach to politics when he was in opposition. He didn’t oppose for opposition’s sake, and would hold his nose and support measures that made sense. Gradually, he expanded his base that way, developing a reputation for being practical rather than partisan.
The CP's account is absolutely right about the message sent in Halifax, as speakers from Manitoba and Nova Scotia alike made pointed mention of the party's having voted with Conservative governments at times on the way to power. But what's missing is the context for those votes.

In Manitoba, in advance of an election which was set to take place that fall regardless of what happened on the budget vote, the Filmon government presented a budget which boosted health care spending by roughly 10% after the NDP had focused on health care as its main issue for the previous four years. As a result, the NDP's support for the budget provided both a vote for substantially the policies it had been advocating since the previous election, and a form of immunization in advance of an election which would happen regardless of the outcome of the budget vote.

In Nova Scotia, the NDP's votes actually were essential to support a PC government. But they too were readily explained as being based on the governing party having actually adopted planks from the NDP's platform.

Of course, $1 billion in improvements to EI for long-term workers as currently on offer from the Cons is certainly better than nothing. But the federal NDP has rightly criticized the Cons' bill as falling short of even the Cons' spin (which itself didn't promise anything close to what the NDP has long been seeking on EI). And combined with the Harper government's continued stance of refusing to cooperate with other parties, that makes it a much more difficult sell to claim that NDP support can be grounded in the governing party having adopted its values and proposals.

Which means that unless Layton has some reason to expect that the Cons will radically change course, the NDP's message will be based on compromising for the sake of being seen as willing to compromise, rather than much expectation of substantially advancing the NDP's vision for Canada in its voting choices. And there's reason to question whether that will accomplish any more as a matter of pragmatism than it will as a matter of principle.

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