“Canada’s political tides have shifted away from an election,” wrote Luke Savage in the last issue of The Varsity. While it may be true that an election has been postponed, there has been no shifting of political tides, only a selling-out of progressive principles by Jack Layton and the NDP.
The NDP’s decision to prop-up the government was neither about extracting concessions on Employment Insurance—which even the party’s president, Peggy Nash, admitted were “absolutely not enough” – or about co-operation to “make Parliament work.” It was a cold-blooded political calculation made by a party and leader that reeks of the worst kind of opportunism. It is a pathetic distillation of the long-held belief of many Canadians that the NDP no longer stands for progressive policies, only posturing.
Let’s be clear. The New Democrats are in no position to fight an election in today’s political climate. They have no money, while campaigns are increasingly expensive; the Liberals and Conservatives are out-fundraising the NDP by huge margins. Many NDP MPs have been sitting for only a year—making them extremely electorally vulnerable—they have barely nominated 10 per cent of their candidates nationally, and they face an invigorated Liberal Party that is no longer led by Stéphane Dion. Most importantly, New Democrats have no idea what their own party stands for.
Led by their moustachioed firebrand leader, the NDP has smugly proclaimed for months that they would oppose the Harper government, final stop. They would proudly vote against the Harper budget without even reading it. They would proudly oppose the economic update in June. On all matters of confidence, the NDP would vote against the government. But alas, they did not.
This isn’t the first time the New Democrats have joined the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. In November 2005, Jack Layton proudly brought down the Paul Martin government, bringing on the election that got Stephen Harper his first term as prime minister. Then, as now, Jack put politics over principles.
But now more than ever, the NDP should be standing by their principles to guard against the further crumbling of Canada’s ideals. In his few years as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has changed this country’s political landscape. Little by little, he’s dismantling our hard-won national institutions. He’s reversing years of progress that Canada has made in international affairs, and he has shown a disdain for national unity, favouring a politics of division and deceit. Enough is enough.
But on Friday, the New Democrats rose ceremoniously in support of the Harper government. They expressed their confidence in the policies of the Harper Conservatives, and ensured the government’s continued survival.
This blatant selling-out of deeply held policy beliefs of the party and its core supporters is not just offensive to political observers. It affects the state of this nation. The result of Layton’s calculations back in 2005 was the cancellation of national childcare, the abandonment of our commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, and the destruction of the Kelowna Accord, a hard-won policy for support and development in Aboriginal communities across the country.
Especially in a parliamentary democracy, it is crucially important to hold our representatives accountable for their actions. The NDP purports to be Canada’s progressive conscience. How can this be so when Jack Layton, Olivia Chow, and the rest of the NDP caucus show that time and again, they are willing to sacrifice their principles to please the pollsters?
Students here at the University of Toronto are right to be cynical about our political system. Having elected Olivia Chow to Parliament to stand up for them as representative for Trinity-Spadina, what they got was a professional politician who betrayed them last Friday by ensuring the continued survival of the Harper government. She, like Jack Layton, put politics before principles. But students are catching on to Layton’s ruse. The NDP is in danger of losing the riding of Trinity-Spadina, which includes most of U of T. And quite frankly, they should lose it. They have failed to stand up for progressives on this campus and across the country. As it turns out, the only thing the NDP stands up for is Stephen Harper’s government.
It’s one thing to talk about putting politics before principles in the abstract way that pundits like to analyse politics. It’s quite another to consider the very real, very destructive consequences of Layton’s calculations. He abandoned progressive Canadians when he stood with Harper in 2005, and he did it again on Friday.