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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Layton slamming to warn the heart

A touching little piece from the Ottawa Citizen's Susan Riley

Junkyard Jack

Susan Riley
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

They are overshadowed by a leader who is alternately decisive and abrasive, they appear to believe federal Liberals are the source of all evil and they are not going anywhere in the polls.

No, not Stephen Harper's Conservatives; Jack Layton's New Democrats. Generally they fly under the radar, sidelined in the battle between the traditional behemoths -- to their intense and understandable frustration. Lately, however, they have found themselves at centre stage, but not in flattering light -- victims of the self-inflicted blunders that often trip up the bigger parties.

NDP backbencher Irene Mathyssen's rash accusation against Conservative MP James Moore concerning his laptop preferences was more than an embarrassment: it was ammunition for those who will always regard New Democrats as smug, priggish scolds. Despite Mathyssen's apology, the remark will haunt her and her party. And, for once, Layton wasn't front and centre: he let his embattled MP dig her own way out.

Later, it fell to veteran British Columbia MP Libby Davies to apologize for false accusations, advanced by NDP officials, that a Liberal candidate in the last election tried to bribe his NDP rival. Again, Layton kept a low profile throughout.

That didn't protect him from accusations, from Liberal Ralph Goodale, of embracing "junkyard-dog" tactics -- not an unusual charge on the Hill, but an unusual target. New Democratic Party leaders usually try to float above the fray, not descend into it. But this is not your mother's NDP: it is muscular, mustachioed and, most days, pretty mad.

It is also increasingly hard to distinguish from its rivals. Last week, for instance, there were reports -- almost lost amid Brian Mulroney's star turn -- that Layton rejected two potential NDP candidates in Quebec for straying from the party line. It was not, party officials insisted, because one is transgendered. Interestingly, when Harper accepted the banishment of two Ontario Conservative hopefuls for ideological inconsistencies, he was accused of being a control freak.

New Democrats also accuse Harper of slavishly imitating U.S. Republicans, of importing neoconservative strategies from abroad. But they recently announced their own mission to Australia to study new Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's recent victory. Apparently when New Democrats shop offshore for tactics, it isn't a sign of political sycophancy, but evidence of ideological solidarity and organizational sophistication.

They point is not that New Democrats are uniquely hypocritical: all parties exhibit double standards on these and other issues. But no party is more deeply shocked by the shabby exigencies of real-life politics -- with that great Prairie exemplar of virtue, Manitoba MP Pat Martin, a leading case.

As for Layton's inability to crack the 16-to-19-per-cent range in polls, that may reflect ambivalence over his informal alliance with the Harper Conservatives. The alliance is purely strategic. Nor is it comprehensive -- New Democrats still criticize Tory environmental and social policies. But there has developed, for some NDP stalwarts, a disquieting pattern: a gang-up on the Liberals, when Harper poses a far greater danger to the country.

Others, especially Elizabeth May, are troubled by Layton's nasty tone towards the Green party. Some of his MPs accuse May of being a closet Tory; other cast her as a wannabe Liberal. She has been attacked, unfairly, as an opponent of a woman's right to choose and generally shunned by Layton, despite her repeated attempts to talk. If the NDP response to May is tense and the tone frayed, it is because she represents a threat. Gradually, unevenly, and despite the lack of a daily platform, the Greens are creeping up in the polls.

But, as Layton's supporters explain, he is in politics to win, not to help like-minded rivals. And he is right to mistrust Liberals: they talk a progressive line in opposition, but invariably govern from the right.

That said, St├ęphane Dion is a different kind of Liberal -- the first leader in years not close to the world of big money. Whether he succeeds in creating a greener, more progressive Liberal party is an open question and Layton, sensibly, isn't inclined to wait for the answer.

Meanwhile, Layton is conducting himself like any other ambitious, strategy-minded, combative (male) leader. For now, policy seems secondary to strategy. That may be why the party was so slow to condemn the hysteria over veiled voters: it didn't want to risk support in Quebec. Indeed, its overriding goal -- sound familiar? -- appears to be to showcase its prize recruit, Outremont MP Thomas Mulclair, and make electoral inroads in Quebec.

As for the leader, he is both an asset and a liability -- intense, intelligent, volatile, convinced of his own virtue, prickly when criticized and not warmly engaging. No, not Stephen Harper. But similar.

Is there a problem?

If so what is it, the message, the dealing with Harper or Jack himself?Recommend this Post


paulitics said...

I criticize the NDP as much as the next guy, and I think a lot of the charges in this post are not unfair. But it's disingenuous at best to claim that the Mathyssen/Moore incident was a racket or in any way dishonest.

Moore didn't deny viewing an image of a "scantily-clad" woman on his laptop in the House chamber. In fact he admitted it openly and freely -- with the caveat, of course, that he was in a romantic relationship with said woman. I don't see here how Moore gets absolved of all guilt here without having to apologize while Mathyssen gets all the scorn.

I mean if we're going to bash the NDP, let's do it over their genuinely cowardly policies in several areas from employee rights to neoliberalism to environmentalism. Or else, let's criticize them over their mostly impotent records whenever they've been elected at the provincial levels.

But really, this is pathetic as far as genuine criticism of the New Democrats goes.

Nature girl said...

Prairie Manitoba MP Pat Martin , actually lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C.- Would you want to live in Canada's poorest riding?

Nature Girl