Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Put the "New" in New Democratic Party

The NDP should shift its stale policies and election platform to compete for votes at the centre of the political spectrum.

The problem with the New Democratic Party is that its ideas aren’t that new anymore. In fact, most of them look like they were lifted out of a time capsule from the 1970s.

Most problematic of all for the federal NDP is its image as a tax-and-spend political party, a party that is quite happy to tax the private sector in order to keep public-sector programs and their employees well funded.

The irony of this approach is that those working in the public sector have become the “haves” in Canadian society, with relatively good job security and generous pensions, while those working in the private sector have had to cope with layoffs and little or no pensions or retirement savings. Thus, traditional NDP tax-and-spend policies in effect take from the “have-nots,” struggling small-business owners and their employees, and give to the haves, those with secure public-sector jobs.

Where the NDP have made gains in recent years, most notably forming the government in Nova Scotia last year, it has been because of a willingness of the provincial leader to move their party to the political centre and compete directly for moderate voters with both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

When the NDP was elected government in 1991 in my home province of British Columbia, it was under the leadership of self-confessed political moderate Mike Harcourt. When the NDP was narrowly re-elected in 1996 under the brash leadership of Glen Clark, he promised to govern for all British Columbians. He didn’t, and the result was an unprecedented pummeling at the polls in 2001, which saw the party reduced to only two seats.

At the federal level, the NDP has squandered significant political opportunity. Canadians have shown a consistent reticence to entrust the Conservatives with a majority, and many remain resentful of the attitude of entitlement from the Liberals, who governed Canada for most of the 20th century.

There still exists an opportunity for the NDP to compete for votes at the centre of Canada’s political spectrum. That would entail, however, jettisoning much of their left-wing ideology and following a much more populist and pragmatic approach to politics.

To date, the federal NDP has shown little interest in trying to do this, despite the fact that Canada’s federal political parties now get public funding based on the number of votes they received in the previous election.

The obvious winning strategy is for the NDP to shift its policies and election platform so as to gain as many votes as possible. But that would require a federal NDP leader who is cable of convincing the NDP’s often ideological membership to let the New Democratic Party actually do something new.

This article was first published by The Mark News