Monday, August 29, 2011

Why the NDP's effort to create a Trudeau-like Layton cult will ultimately fail

Canada's New Democratic Party is a the manifestation of a political movement mired in obsolete radicalism that the major countries in the developed world have rejected. One needs only to look at their leadership of Libby Davies, Joe Comartin, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, to see irrelevant middle-aged white people who have clasped on to union-driven, "make the rich pay" vapid sloganeering which has been shunned by a world that continues to embrace "The Third Way."

Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Jean Chretien led a wave of blending liberal social policies with conservative economics that created stability and prosperity for their countries and is an approach that has been embraced by the majority of voters in most of the world's major democratic nations.

The NDP, with its regressive policies, was nonetheless able to score an increase in its vote in part due to the personal popularity of its recently deceased leader, Jack Layton. But the NDP surge was even more due to the inept political skills of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, whose party's collapse provided virtually all of the NDP's gains.

With Layton gone, the NDP realizes they have no one comparable to replace him, but to cling on to the momentum that Layton's death has given them, they are being shameless in their attempt to replicate a Canadian phenomenon. 

At the end of his political career, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was intensely unpopular. He resigned his seat rather than face Brian Mulroney in an election he knew he was going to lose. Trudeau had earned the enmity of western Canada for the contempt he showed them and was unpopular in the rest of the country for the poor economic leadership of his government. Indeed, much of Trudeau's political success is due to his having the good fortune to face the least charismatic opponents in Canadian political history in the persons of Bob Stanfield (twice) and Joe Clark.

But a funny thing happened after Trudeau resigned. His popularity increased about a decade later, as some people's nostalgia helped them forget how badly he mismanaged the country. He also benefited from a generation of students who were taught that the multicultural policies he imposed were visionary and about the genuine vision he had in his achievement of patriating Canada's Constitution and creating a Charter of Rights. From this nostalgia emerged a Cult of Trudeau that the Liberal Party had been able to use to its advantage until 2006, and still has adherents.

The NDP, as out of touch as they may be, are not completely absent of observational skills, and seeing the sympathy that has been expressed over Layton's death to cancer, think they can ride that sympathy into the creation of a Layton legend and cult that will continue.

But the NDP brain trust forgot a few things. The sympathy for Layton has a lot to do with him being likable and people being naturally empathetic to a public figure dying, almost literally, before their eyes. Layton was as little like Trudeau as he was like Bobby Kennedy. Sixty-one is early to die, but it can only be considered young if you're a Galapagos tortoise. Layton wasn't martyred for his beliefs, he died of a disease that takes thousands of other Canadians every year in circumstances that are no less tragic for the loved ones of those involved.

Patriation of Canada's Constitution
The major difference between Trudeau and Layton that will prevent the Layton cult the NDP hopes for from sticking is that unlike the NDP leader, Mr. Trudeau had accomplishments.

There is no lasting legacy that the NDP can point to for Layton. Whereas Trudeau did have the Constitution, Charter, and multiculturalism, as well as exhibiting strong, determined leadership during the October Crisis. Trudeau helped maneuver Canada's foreign policy towards being more independent and he fought off the greatest threat to the separation of Quebec when it was led by the independence movement's most dynamic and intelligent leader ever, Rene Levesque.

Not the least notable difference between the two men is that unlike Layton, Trudeau actually earned the title of Right Honourable by being elected Prime Minister.

The NDP may be riding high for the moment on Jack Layton's ashes, but with an election more than four years away, the distant memory of a likable guy who didn't really do much to affect Canada will pale in comparison to the issues of the day in 2016. It's the Liberal Party, with its stronger roster of capable politicians and history of national leadership that stands the most to gain from the NDP's loss of Jack Layton.

1 comment:

Rick said...

No lasting legacy? What do you mean? Jack spent virtually his whole adult life living off the public teat. And to be able to extend that even unto death...now that's a legacy.