February 9, 2011 – You know, it’s the 50th anniversary of the NDP in Canada and I have not been given the impression that anyone in the party is even aware of it; let alone trying to celebrate the continuity of a party that has only been kept out of power because Canadians have been conditioned into believing, by the red and blue, that the NDP does not offer continuity.
The New Democratic Party of Canada was born at the party convention of 1961 and was formed from the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation, which represented the workers and political left in Canada from 1932-1961, and the Canadian Labour Congress, which was formed from a coalition of two previously separate Labour Congresses.
The party continues to attract many representatives of the socially-conscious citizenry in Canada, but has never held federal power. The contributions of the NDP to the political landscape have been limited to being the deciding voice of Canadians on policy in the House during the times of minority government representation. Notwithstanding the frustrations of lacking the federal control to implement many of the progressive policies developed in caucus and communities, the NDP has still managed to force a raise in the standard of social security for all Canadians.
The largest contribution to the living landscape from the NDP, through the efforts of its first leader, Tommy Douglas, was Medicare: a world-exemplary model of a social healthcare system. Also, in 1970, Douglas and the party took the courageous, moral stand to oppose the imposition of the War Measures Act, the Act which resulted in tanks roaming Canadian streets.
Therein lies the true story of the NDP’s role in Canadian politics, vis-à-vis their continued contributions to the standards of living in this country.
A Medicare-type system had been a goal of Tommy Douglas since his days as the Saskatchewan premier. When he left the premiership and was elected to the helm of the newly-formed Federal NDP in 1961, the doctors of the province were in the midst of fears that such a plan would cost them money. But, by 1964, even through a doctor’s strike, the Saskatchewan-model of healthcare had proven its worth and was ready to be taken on nationally.
So, the brainchild of a decade of work by the Canadian social left, from all the various groups involved in the forming of the NDP, as well as the dedication to implementation shown by the Saskatchewan Provincial Assembly reaches the floor of the Federal House in 1966. Finally! Except that it was the Liberal minority government of Lester B. Pearson that presented the legislation and took the credit for the creation of Medicare.
In 1970, the NDP stance to oppose the War Measures act legislation was a morally conscious position that took into account the values and commitments the party members stand by. Yet, despite the feelings of most Canadians, tanks and armed, uniformed soldiers still rolled in the streets of Montreal.
In a nutshell, the NDP’s contributions to the living landscape through politics has been thus far limited to creating the ideas and pointing out the policies that the purple parties (red liberals, blue conservatives) use to generate just enough good faith to maintain a joint monopoly on power in Canada. The NDP deserves far more credit from the political spectrum and especially from the Canadian people.
And when there are positioned-stands to be taken on issues of moral significance before the House of the day, the NDP has always been able to provide the voice of the impassioned citizenry. Even though in 1970, as in 2011 in Afghanistan, the tanks still rolled, Canadians must be able to respect the necessity of a visible opposition to decisions which are taken though morally questioning.
What we are left with in Canada is this situation: A political party that for 50 years has not waivered from its commitment to the Canadian worker and strengthening the Canadian social security net while the purple parties, over the same time frame, have become more similar in serving the interests of the political class, to which they belong, first. Unfortunately for the NDP, left holding the bag of safeguarding Canadian people’s welfare while other political parties prioritize their hold on power, this scenario has meant half a century of toiling in the shadows like trolls under the bridge.
We’ve reached the point as Canadians, where we deserve to give another perspective a governing chance in Ottawa. In 2006, on the heels of the Gomery Commission, the Canadian electorate made it clear to the Liberal government that it was not going to accept that corruption was business-as-usual in Ottawa. And, in what has seemed like a slap in the face to many, the Canadian Establishment has unleashed 5 years of Harper on us in response, almost like saying “Yeah, you didn’t like the previous level of corruption? Don’t complain, look how much worse we can make things for you.”
Obviously, the expected result for the Establishment would be a public just begging for a return to Liberal methods of operation after the Harper experience. There is more to the big picture then that, regional interests within Canada play a role as well, but the problem is that the Liberals haven’t learned a thing in the interim.
Stephan Dion made an interesting comment during his time as Liberal leader; he said “Mr. Harper has had his turn as Prime Minister, now it’s my turn”. A local TV camera crew caught up with him walking his dog near his Westmount home, and the unscripted remark made me think, eventually, about how the NDP must feel about when will be its turn in federal command.
Because the NDP has spent the last 50 years in and out of the shadows, analyzing the strengths and weakness of both the red and blue, and most importantly, always keeping an ear to the Canadian public – not just in terms of what the needs are on the ground, but how to best implement policy as well.
In the meantime, the NDP must shout from the rooftops in every constituency the good they have been and continue to promote throughout Canada – and it must be done with the concrete, above-board goal of making Canadians realize that the NDP are the only voting alternative to the purple parties. The Political Establishment likes to tell Canadians that it is the Liberal/NDP vote split which allows Conservatives to take power. Hogwash. Some Conservatives wear red shirts and some Liberals wear blue shirts to take votes away from the NDP in the strategic ridings.
Precisely because the NDP have represented the Canadian worker continually for 50 years, with some of the greatest benefits taken for granted in today’s society the results of NDP initiatives and ideas, it’s not only a question of credit for the NDP’s contributions. If it was just about the credit, the NDP would have fallen into the trap of playing the political game long ago and maybe would have even enjoyed federal power at the expense of serving the needs of Canadian citizens. What it is about is this: If the NDP could have contributed so much to the Canadian landscape over the last 50 years with so little control or power in Ottawa, can we, as Canadians, even imagine how much good the NDP could do with even a minority government? How much better could it be then what we have now?
So, even if you aren’t a supporter or fan of the NDP, the least you could do is tell your friends, who you know are, congratulations on this 50th anniversary. If nothing else, you will show your political astuteness by acknowledging the contributions of a party, awareness of whose deeds had always been limited to those “in-the-know”. And if you are a supporter, fan or even a card-carrying member of the NDP, let your friends know that your party of choice has not compromised its values and principles for 50 years and counting. And PS – you don’t have to wait until the convention in June to announce the 50th Anniversary (especially if the next federal election may be held in the spring).