Funny, the sky is clear. So why do I keep hearing the sound of distant thunder?
Oh. Wait. It’s coming from Ottawa:
Two days after Jack Layton’s state funeral turned into an ode to social democracy and inclusive politics, musings about a merger with the NDP by two former Liberal leaders led to growing calls among current MPs for unity among the opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
The open discussions of a Liberal-NDP merger or coalition overshadowed the opening moves of the New Democratic leadership race and attempts by interim Liberal leader Bob Rae to galvanize his troops ahead of a politically charged fall sitting of Parliament.
“We have to hold a serious debate on the future of progressive forces in Canada,” Liberal MP Denis Coderre said.
On the weekend, former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien said a merger would have helped defeat the Conservatives in the May election, and former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff highlighted the shared values of his party and the NDP.
Mr. Coderre, one of the best-known federal Liberals in Quebec, said negotiations could lead to a new party of Liberal Democrats or a coalition. “We are currently divided, and we have to look at all of the options,” he said.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau said he is not convinced of the benefits of a merger, but added he could change his mind.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
The NDP’s Brad Lavigne, a senior adviser to interim leader Nycole Turmel, said the party is focusing on fulfilling its duties as the Official Opposition for the first time in its history.
“Right now, the focus is on strengthening the New Democratic Party through a renewal leadership process and by rallying the parliamentary caucus around a strong fall session to hold the Harper government to account,” Mr. Lavigne said.
Still, the idea has attracted the backing of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent as well as Mr. Chrétien, who, according to a Quebec columnist, boasted on a return flight from Mr. Layton’s funeral that his plans for a Liberal-NDP merger would have stopped the Conservatives from taking power this year.
Meanwhile, former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said on his Facebook page that Liberals and New Democrats all care about generosity, justice and hope, adding it was a pleasure to “imagine what the future of our country might look like if we put those values first.”
Now, why didn’t any of them say that BEFORE the election? Oh yeah: They thought they could win on the basis of name recognition and traditional consituencies; they took their regular voters for granted, in other words.
Were they really THAT stupidly overconfident? Anyone who was keeping a weather eye out would have seen that the Liberals were destined to lose and lose badly when they were relying on a combination of tried-and-not-so-true, plus the disastrous “new” tactic of trying to woo the mushy middle (of which there is less in Canada than you might think.) Or rather, what they perceived the mushy middle to be: namely, Right Lite. Which is not even the case in the States, much less up here. Canada has long leaned left (we know what’s good for us, duh). That’s probably why fewer than half of all eligible voters turned out, and fewer than half of those voted for the HarpoCons. When the slate looks as unpromising as a choice between Harpo and Harpo Lite, what did anyone expect?
The only ones, it seems, who were not fooled, were the ones who already had New Democrats sitting in the House, and the Québécois. They turned out in droves to pour Orange Crush all over Harpo’s hollow “majority”.
And now, it seems, Harpo’s latest attempt to blunt the impact of all that orange juice may be about to backfire on him. Let Linda McQuaig explain:
Allowing Layton a state funeral was probably Stephen Harper’s most generous prime ministerial act. But it led to a nationally televised scene that will likely haunt him and surely inspire progressives for years to come: Stephen Lewis, the iconic elder statesman of Canada’s social democratic movement, standing in front of Canada’s most right-wing prime minister ever, speaking truth to power.
Determined that the event be more than just a tribute to the goodness of one man, Lewis used the heft of the occasion, as Layton would have wanted, to drive home Layton’s social democratic vision for the country.
With the Conservatives’ new hammerlock on power — accomplished with a mere 40 per cent of the national vote — here at least was one joyous moment in which we could watch the country’s most powerful orator confront a prime minister who had no choice but to stand every time the rest of the room rose in rapturous pleasure at Lewis’s inspiring call for a more equal and generous Canada.
That message is exactly what those on the right have been trying to deny — that there is an alternative to the grim, slash-and-burn policies of austerity they want to foist on us, making this an ever more unequal society.
A funeral oration? A veritable “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” one, at that? A funeral oration can really do THAT?
Yes, it can. And if you don’t believe me, watch:
This is what’s gotten the Liberals so suddenly pensive, and willing to contemplate what they categorically dismissed back when it might have helped them. It was not a non-partisan speech, it was an openly, unapologetically NDP speech, by an open, unapologetic NDPer. And it gave a truer indication of the party’s power than any pollster or media report could do. Many of the listeners still have living memories of the great Tommy Douglas, after all.
And even those who don’t recall Tommy Douglas directly, remember very well what kind of man Jack Layton was. He is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
It doesn’t help Harpo any that he did not get invited to say a few words over the casket of his arch-foe, but then again, who wanted to help him? He is well known for his bland ruthlessness, and he thinks he has a mandate to do to us what is reaping daily riots over in Europe, in Latin America, in virtually any place where neoliberal austerity measures have been rammed through. Linda McQuaig again:
It’s not that we don’t have enough collective wealth — our cup overfloweth — it’s that we’ve accepted a rigid and illogical ideology, preached by conservatives, that teaches us we can no longer afford what we plainly managed to afford when we had less money.
The events of the past week remind us that the social democratic vision remains potent in the land.
Harper, who once dissed Canada as “second-tier socialistic country,” desperately wants to replace that vision with a different national vision — one based on military fighting power, loyalty to the British crown and an economic system where the strongest survive while the rest (even in nursery school) are on their own.
Anyone stupid enough to try that here deserves all the hard times he’s gonna get. And if all these merger rumblings continue (and turn into something besides thunder-boomers), he may get a very hard time before too long.