Reforming the NDP
by Fred McMahon


The Moncton Times and Transcript, The Halifax Daily News

NDP leader Alexa McDonough is fighting the good fight. Against all odds, she wants to pull the NDP into the late 20th century. If she succeeds, she may create the most attractive party in Canada for any thinking person of left or right.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t arguably better policy options. It just means sensible policy ideas aren’t on sale anywhere on the federal scene. A thinking NDP would be the only thought centre on Parliament Hill.

McDonough has urged the party to adopt the sensible policies which have brought success to the British Labour party, the German Social Democratic Party, French Socialists, Dutch left-wingers, Nordic socialists and, in Canada, the NDP in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of medicare and the co-operative political movement.

These policies haven’t merely meant electoral success. They’ve brought new job and wealth creation. After Canada’s lacklustre performance, we could use some job and wealth creation to halt our sliding standard of living.

The new social democratic policies put aside the old ideology and go back to the roots of the movement, its goals of social justice and broad-spread affluence. The ideology of state ownership, union power, massive government, class conflict and the intrusion of state power into everyday aspects of life was meant to achieve these goals.

But, wherever it’s been tried, the ideology has failed to produce the expected results. It’s left people more impoverished while benefiting powerful interest groups, especially the union leadership, some lucky union members, usually in the public sector, who are able to hold the government for ransom, and any number of hangers-on and rent-seekers on the fringes of government largesse. Meanwhile, unemployment soars, the economy tanks and the lives of ordinary people become poorer.

This was not what the social democratic movement was supposed to achieve. It is what the British Columbia NDP has achieved.

The new left in Europe pushes income down the scale to those most in need, but stresses personal responsibility and opportunity through training and education. The new left focuses on welfare reform, not out of meanness but because it appreciates the inter-generational problems created by dependence, and how this closes off opportunity.

The new left understands something former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae has often said: The best social program is a job. A renewed NDP would recognize that high taxes and government interference in the economy damage job creation.

Unions and left-wing parties in several European nations joined hands to call for tax relief for working people, something even the Canadian Labour Congress has demanded, much to the consternation of old-line NDPers and the ideologues surrounding Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian Auto Workers union. Tax cuts sparked a fury of job creation in nations as different as Ireland and the Netherlands.

A renewed NDP would maintain the quality of public services, but it would understand government has to spend taxpayers’ money carefully to get the most effect for the smallest buck. To achieve this, it would be willing to experiment with privatization and contracting out.

Examined up close, the new left still has baggage from its past and any number of damaging policy positions, but still a renewed NDP would be a revelation of startling power on the dead-dog Canadian political landscape.

Jean Chretien has no policy orientation. He likes big government because he likes big government. It’s just the milieu in which he matured. Besides, it gives government plenty of power, lots of opportunities to reward its friends – for example, a number of question “economic development” loans to Chretien associates in his home riding – and the ability to fund impressive sounding things, like the Millennium Bureau of Canada, to pay for frescos in the Saguenay.

Conservative leader Joe Clark comes from the same milieu and has shown no policy smarts, period. Canadian historians compiled a rating of Canadian Prime Ministers. Clark came 15th, one five failured PMs. Reform seems less a party of principle than of Prairie populism and western resentment. The United Alternative is DBA, Dead Before Arrival.

So, if McDonough succeeds, she just might soak up the left, the right and the middle, as Tony Blair did in Britain.