Opinion-Policy Nexus

It is peacetime in the nation’s capital. The new Liberal government is getting settled, secure in the knowledge that its majority – coupled with disarray in the opposition parties – means it can do pretty much whatever it likes for the next few years.

Peacetime, however, is not the same as quiet time. We are in for an active time in federal politics. Everyone will be struggling.

The Liberals will be struggling with the constraints of money and time to keep as many of their election promises as possible. They know they won’t be able keep all of them; there are too many. But they know their fate in the next election will be determined not so much by the promises they keep as by the ones they break.

On the opposition side, the leaderless Conservatives are in a holding pattern. Stephen Harper is gone, but he’s not – his shadow hangs over the party he led for a dozen years.

The interim leader Rona Ambrose is likeable and appears to be capable of handling her limited mandate. She will oppose anything (possibly everything) the Liberals attempt. But her mandate does not extend to repositioning the party nor to arbitrating in the civil war that is being waged, subsurface, between the old progressives, who wish the party could be more like the Liberals (as it was in the days of Diefenbaker, Stanfield and Mulroney) and the old reformers, who yearn for another Harper to lead them back to the 19th century.

Potential leadership candidates run the gamut – from former Harper ministers Jason Kenney, who, like Harper, is a Calgarian; Maxime Bernier, a light-weight libertarian from Quebec; Ontario’s Tony Clement who lost to Harper in 2003; and Peter MacKay, the somewhat shopworn former (and last) leader of the old Progressive Conservative party – to outsiders such as Brad Wall, the newly re-elected premier of Saskatchewan (who does not speak French and says he doesn’t want the job); and Dragons’ Den personality Kevin O’Leary (who also has no French but has the cash and chutzpah  to run anyway).

It’s not a field that will keep Justin Trudeau awake nights.

But what about rumours that Stephen Harper may run to succeed himself? The rumour was floated on a slow news day last week by National Post columnist John Ivison. This gist is that Harperites are so appalled by the thought that MacKay, a moderate, might become leader that they would drag their favourite former PM out of retirement. Ivison quoted “one respected senior Conservative” as saying. “It's the 'break glass in case of emergency' option.”

The Liberals should be so lucky.

Meanwhile, the New Democrats are searching their souls, an exercise they go through from time to time. Which is more important: principle or power? Back in 1969-74, economic nationalism was the issue that split the party, pitting its radical left wing – the “Waffle Movement” with its “Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada” – against the party’s leadership and establishment.

For all practical purposes, the struggle ended in 1972 when James Laxer, the Waffle candidate for NDP leader was defeated by the deputy leader, David Lewis. David was the father of Stephen Lewis, the former Ontario NDP leader and Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. Stephen, in turn, is the father of Avi Lewis, a documentary filmmaker, who is married to the social activist Naomi Klein.

This time, the struggle for the soul of the NDP is not over foreign ownership of the Canadian economy as it was four decades ago. Today, it is climate change. Together, Lewis and Klein are urging federal and provincial governments to adopt their “Leap Manifesto,” which calls for the adoption of a radical plan to, among other things, to stop building pipelines, leave oil in the ground and implement a progressive carbon tax.

That’s further than national leader Thomas Mulcair, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and other mainstream New Democats are prepared to go. How far the NDP decides to go will determine whether the party remains in the comfortable centre-left or moves all the way to the true left, where votes may be scarcer but influence may ultimately be greater. 


Monday, April 11, 2016 - 08:54