Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday August 28, 1999
The NDP Should Stand its Ground For All Our Sakes
If character can be judged on how well, how strongly, an institution holds to its fundamental beliefs in times of crisis, we fear for the future of the federal New Democratic Party.
So should its members, gathering in Ottawa today and tomorrow for the NDP’s national convention. There, they will argue calls from party leader Alexa McDonough and other party moderates for federal tax cuts and a more “business-friendly” approach by the party. It promises to be a raucous debate: Canadian Auto Workers’ head Buzz Hargrove has already proclaimed that McDonough’s call for tax cuts will “destroy” the party, while the Canadian Labour Congress’s Ken Georgetti says it is necessary to party renewal. We tend — and this might be a first — to agree with Hargrove.
A so-called strategic move to the right would move the NDP into the fuzzy, blurry space occupied by the ever-less-distinguishable Liberals and Tories. Not only would that be a shame, but it might sound the death knell of the party that, to many Canadians, has often seemed the real opposition to the government of the day.
We have never supported the New Democrats as a viable choice for government — old news to the Hamilton area’s labour community that has long been a friend of the NDP — but we have never underestimated the party’s value to Canadians.
The NDP has been far more than a gadfly party espousing contrarian positions. At its best, it has been a national social conscience, reminding Parliament, provincial legislatures and Canadians as a whole of what really matters, especially when times are tough.
Much of what Canadians value about our society and how we define ourselves — including large parts of the social safety net that protects society’s most vulnerable members (and there, but for the grace of God, go all of us) — came out of the windmill-tilting resolve and fervour of NDP leaders Tommy Douglas, David Lewis and Ed Broadbent.
It was most often when the NDP held the balance of power over minority governments that working-class Canadians best saw their needs recognized and met.
Having said that, we cannot blame McDonough and her advisers for looking for new ideas, new proposals, with which to reach out to Canadians. Much of the socialism of the past — nationalization, tax increases for the so-called wealthy that actually penalized middle-class families — simply won’t wash today. Canadians not only know they are over-taxed, but are increasingly demanding relief. They want less government, by and large, not more.
And that is precisely why the NDP — even while modernizing itself — must hold its philosophical ground. It is when Canadians risk becoming selfish — individually and as a society — that we most need the prod to wakefulness, the call to altruism, that the NDP has traditionally provided. Even a starving man needs an angel on his shoulder to remind him to leave something for the next hungry soul.
To cater to the populist, although justified, demand for tax cuts shows a disappointing lack of moral courage.
Yes, it is tough being a socialist these days. Yes, it is lonely always being the third, or fourth, party. No, being a national conscience is not as rewarding as being a prime minister or leader of the opposition.
But seeking party popularity by blurring distinctions can be fatal. The NDP is looking down a road that may well lead to its demise. And Canada would be much the poorer for it. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, D12, 8/28/1999)