Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The New NDP

Before the May 2nd election I was a happy oftentimes New Democrat. By which I mean that more often than not I considered myself aligned with the NDP. Hence the “Orange” of Orange Tory. I’ve volunteered on NDP campaigns, and more often than not I have voted NDP in federal and provincial elections.

One of my justifications for voting New Democratic over the past few years was my belief in a principled, progressive opposition. One of my favourite examples that I provide is a number of years ago the McGuinty Liberals of Ontario cut funding for an educational program for autistic children with no justification. Parents and children were promised these programs, and as many know autistic children do not deal well with change. The program was expensive per child, but cost the government very little, and experts argued that it significantly improved some children’s (not all) performance.

Parents of autistic children were irate at the decision. So, everyday in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Shelley Martel (NDP – Sudbury), now retired, rose to speak to the issue and cajole the Liberal government to respond. After months of struggle and media scrutiny, largely helped by the efforts of Shelley Martel, funding was restored. Now, one could argue that the NDP was motivated to make the Liberals look bad for the next election, but one was years away. Also, the voters motivated by autism-based educational issues are the definition of a small voting bloc. It is these kinds of principled stands on important policy questions that first attracted me to the NDP in the first place. As an internet-based hipster meme might say, I liked the NDP before it was mainstream.

I worry now with the NDP as the rising party that speaks for the centre-left in the whole country that something will be lost. Many are talking about how the NDP have displaced the Liberals as the potential governing party of the left. What worries me is that the NDP have replaced the Bloc Quebecois. Not dislodged it, but absorbed it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find my political comfort zone in a party packed with Quebec nationalists.

The social democracy and leftist values of the urban cores and Quebec do not appeal to me, generally speaking. They tend to be the pacifists, and social liberals. My values fall more in line with the labour roots, western populism and reform movements of the English or Western NDP. If the NDP shifts to become the government-in-waiting, and its character becomes the poll-following rather than principle-following character that plagued the Liberals I may find it increasingly difficult to vote orange.

In addition, I think I’m drawn to third parties. For example, were I a British citizen I would have voted, and likely would vote in the future for the Liberal-Democrats – a centrist third party. The Lib-Dems are not that dissimilar to the Liberal Party of Canada, and the NDP is not totally removed from the British Labour Party. Yet I’ve never voted Liberal, yet I could happily vote for the Lib-Dems. I think my core philosophy of politics is that reform is necessary and power corrupts, impeding reforms. Third parties promise reform so that they have a better chance in the system, once they succeed within the system they lose their zeal to change it.

I am excited to see the NDP as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, I hope it means that they don’t change as a party, as a set of ideas. But just as important to my political identity, Orange Tory, is the Tory aspect, which means I’m tied to no party, only my principles. I follow them.

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