By PATRICK HUNTER
Two of Canada’s political parties have put new coats of paint on in preparation for the next general elections which is due in 2015. In the red corner, the Liberal Party of Canada has chosen the son of a former prime minister to be its new leader. In the gold corner, a bit of housekeeping to supposedly remove its “devilish horns”, the federal New Democratic Party has erased the word “socialism” from its vocabulary, moderating its descriptive language to “social democrats”.
The election of Justin Trudeau as Liberal leader was, from the outset, seen as a kind of coronation. Liberals are hoping that the genes of the father will work in their favour. (One cannot help but observe that the sons of past popular leaders have not been performing endearingly lately to the masses. George W. Bush and Kim Jong-un of North Korea come to mind.) Nevertheless, Trudeau has managed to find favour among the youth and was elected by a whopping majority to rebuild the party after their devastating loss.
In all seriousness, the responsibilities which face Trudeau are considerable. The Liberals have had the unfortunate history of having troubled leadership since Jean Chretien stepped down. Paul Martin’s leadership suffered from the Chretien legacy in that he was unable to take full control of the Party. There were times when one wondered whether Martin was the leader, or was the party being led by the unelected “advisors”. In the end, the uncertainty forced Martin to step away.
The Stephane Dion ascendancy proved to be a miscue. His election campaign performance left much to be desired as he was unable to present himself as a capable and convincing leader. The electorate was left shaking its collective heads. Dion was “encouraged” to step aside.
In came the Harvard professor, Michael Ignatieff. Again, this leader failed to connect with the electorate. His demeanour was definitely “out of synch” with the public and left the Liberal Party out of the top two positions in the political spectrum. So, away he went.
In the meantime, Bob Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario, on two attempts could not convince the Liberals that he was one of them. Finally, on a promise not to seek the leadership of the Party again, they made him the interim leader. His performance in that role has, without a doubt, given the Liberals an opportunity to raise their embarrassed-laden heads to present a re-grouping party to Trudeau.
Now, the 41 year-old Trudeau has to prove that he is worthy. He has the burden to present the Liberals, under his leadership, as a viable alternative to the Harper Conservatives and the Mulcair New Democrats. Opinion polls, so far, have given him the edge. His challenge now is to maintain it.
The New Democrats’ newly applied coat of paint will no doubt be a painful one for the hardliners to accept. This is a party that has always touted its principled position as socialism. It has hesitated in the inexorable move towards being a political party, as opposed to a movement – an entity that seeks change based on social justice principles. Now, as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, the Party is keenly eying the top spot. To facilitate that next step, it seems that it has become necessary to tinker with tradition. “Leftism” is out. “Centrism” is in. “Let us excise the term ‘socialism’ from our lexicon to soften the message of radicalism.”
One cannot help but feel that the NDP has bought into the message the United States did: that liberal is dirty word. For the NDP, socialism has become the dirty word and can be the instrument of obstruction to gaining power.
There is no question that the tenor of the New Democrats is changing. A significant reason, of course, is that the fulcrum of its existence now rests in Quebec. The once-strong leadership of the Prairie movement has shifted. The representation from Quebec is what makes the Party now the official opposition. Keeping that representation through the next general election is a matter of the highest priority and changes to facilitate that objective have to be considered and put in place. With Trudeau as leader, the degree of the challenge has increased.
Whereas the Mike Harris government in Ontario performed its brutal changes to the socio-economic well-being of the Province in a fairly concentrated manner, the Harper Conservatives have been performing many of the same tasks with a bit more subtlety. So, there has been talk of the Liberals and the NDP joining forces. The leadership of both parties have shifted those discussions off to the side. Depending on the outcome of the next election, those discussions could find their way back to the front burner. That is how the Harper Conservatives came into being – the “evolution” or “morphing” of the Progressive Conservatives, the Reform and the Alliance.
The times, they are a changing.