Yesterday, I was amused to read that some people found it “astonishing” how quickly the NDP under Jack Layton had surged in the polls from a distant third to a close second (and closing fast). I say “amused” because this “astonishment” is based on a lot of silly and outmoded assumptions that deserve a good thrashing. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. We have, in essence, a two-party system, where other parties are only useful insofar as they get to play kingmaker. Why is it taken for granted that ruling power in Canada will only ever alternate between Liberals (who are becoming increasingly less liberal) and Conservatives (who are becoming ever more conservative, Bog help us all)? That’s not democracy, that’s a recipe for democratic stagnation and dictator-creep. And we all know how dictatorial Harpo is–he doesn’t think the Opposition has any right to oppose HIM!
When the two parties in question are starting to look more and more like each other–Harpo with his autocratic, Made-in-USA brand of “Canadian Leadership”; Iggy with all that time spent at Hah-vud, and his cheerleading the BushCo War on Terra when he did finally get back here, not to mention his murky accession to head of the Liberal party–can you blame voters for becoming apathetic? If this is what they get to choose between–Con and Con Lite–they figure they may as well not vote at all, because either way, their votes are only going to be wasted. Their voices are not going to be heard over the din of “U-S-A! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!!”
If we wanted that, we could all just move south of the border and leave Canada to the wolves.
2. Canada is really a conservative country. Really? Then why do most of us keep voting for something other than Conservatives? Why is there so much enthusiasm for the gun registry, single-tier public healthcare, the environment, etc.–indeed, all progressive causes? Why are so many of us clamoring for proportional representation, finding fault with the first-past-the-post system and its ugly habit of shutting out progressive voices? And why are so many of us disillusioned with the Liberals for being so illiberal when you get right down to it? Why aren’t we happy with the Con/Con Lite duopoly, as we would be if we were truly conservative as a country?
Gasp! Could it be that we’re really a leftist country, and some of us just haven’t come to grips with it yet?
Nah…perish the thought.
3. If you want to vote out the Conservatives, you must vote strategically! A vote for Jack Layton is a vote for Stephen Harper! Oh yeah? Refer again to my first point. We do not, in fact, have a two-party system, no matter how much some people want us to think so (and in consequence, give up voting for a third party)! A vote for Layton is a vote for Layton, now.
Strategic voting–otherwise known as “holding your nose”–is a tacit admission of defeat; you’re not voting for, only against. There’s no enthusiasm there, and no momentum, either. I want my guy to get momentum, and I see no other way to do it than by voting enthusiastically for him (as opposed to lackadaisically for the Sure Thing that ain’t.)
And it seems that a growing number of Canadians are seeing it that way, too. Critical mass is tilting away from the notion that the Liberals are the only real alternative to the Cons–mainly because the Liberals are showing themselves to be not much of a real alternative at all. The Liberals of today are no longer the party of Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. More and more, it’s looking like a vote for Iggy is a vote for Harpo–or somebody so much like him that it would be pointless to distinguish between the two.
The last time I voted strategically (against my better conscience, and on the advice of Those In The Know), it was for a provincial Liberal–and Mike Harris’s SupposiTories, who were the Harper SupposiTories in miniature, were still re-elected with a majority, to the immense disgust of the progressive majority of Ontarians. Our province has yet to fully recover from that mess. What a waste of a vote! So I’ve sworn never to do it again, and I’ve kept my promise to myself and voted my NDP conscience. If nothing else, it’s a way of being counted, of expressing your disdain for the two-party system and those who try to hold us to it against our will. And in the long run, it can also serve as a stimulus to progressive leaders who see opportunities for improvement in their own platform and party standings.
4. A New Democrat could never be Prime Minister, or even head of the Opposition. Again, refer to my second point. Maybe this was true a long time ago, when the party was still getting established on a federal level. But even then, Tommy Douglas didn’t think so. He gamely took his kick at the can, and while he didn’t make it as far as the 24 Sussex or even Stornoway, he did manage to change Canada, and quite dramatically, while he was “only” the premier of Saskatchewan. Thanks to the great success of his progressive policies, even Conservative voters are largely in favor of keeping Canada in the “second-tier socialist” state that so annoyed Harpo, way back when. The same that he’s looking to scrap, if he ever gets a majority–which we sure as hell won’t award him now.
In fact, Harpo’s been hemorrhaging votes–he actually lost 160,000 of them between his election in 2006 and his re-election in 2008, and is likely to lose even more this time around. Enough votes lost will translate into enough seats lost will translate into–come on, people, take that logical next step. You know what comes after that, and that it is entirely possible now!
5. Jack Layton is all smile and no substance. If you’re gonna make that charge, as Terence Corcoran of the National Pest very snottily did, you might want to look a bit harder at your own choices there, and compare their style-to-substance ratio. Harpo is extremely image-conscious (and shockingly short on substance, other than maybe hairspray and Teflon). And Iggy? Well, let’s just say that the Liberals acclaimed him leader because they thought his Sexy Intellectual reputation (which really isn’t all that, either) would suffice to carry them to victory. It hasn’t done anything of the sort. And now both parties of the old duopoly, AND the Bloc (!) are losing ground to the “smiling Jack-in-the-box”, who has neither a helmet of hair nor a Harvard professorship to his name.
Sneer all you like, Mr. Corcoran, but voters watched the debates, and there were several good reasons why they came away with a higher opinion of Jack Layton. It’s not just because he had the aplomb to take on three opponents and get in some good zingers. It’s not just because he smiles and seems plucky as he hobbles around on his cane, recovering from cancer and a hip fracture with barely a hitch in his pace. It’s because he knows his onions and has something real to offer. He lives his values (even rides a bike to work on Parliament Hill!) and doesn’t need to cultivate a careful image (unlike those other guys).
As for me, I met him when I was living in Toronto many years ago, and saw that he was the genuine article even then. This was when he was just a lowly, progressive Toronto city councillor, not even a member of Parliament–much less the federal NDP leader. He appears not to have changed significantly since then, and that augurs well. He’s in it for the long haul, and even if he’s not the next Tommy Douglas, he’s got something about him that I can unreservedly respect. That’s spelled S-U-B-S-T-A-N-C-E, in case you’re wondering.
6. The NDP doesn’t have a chance, I tell you! Gee, can you yell it a bit louder? All those people with the bright orange earmuffs can’t hear you.
No, there’s nothing “astonishing” at all about Jack Layton’s breakthrough; I’d say it was bound to happen at some point. And with less than a week to go now until Election Day, the timing could not be better. All those years of voting my conscience out of sheer bullheaded protest could be about to pay off.
And I’m damned if I’ll throw that away now.