Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The imaginary "crisis" of the New Democrats

Satire, they say, is best when it contains a little bit of truth.

Knowing this, it’s easy to conclude that Chantal Hebert’s column is not satire. Because her second in a series in the Toronto Star on the thesis “the NDP is down in the polls and Layton needs to go” is completely without a morsel of truth.

Her column is built on the fact-vacant allegation that "Current polls do suggest that [New Democrats are] facing diminishing returns in the next election."


Presuming that polls DO matter to decisions parties make this far in advance of an election, the fact that the NDP is polling at or near the margin of error of the 2008 election in the middle of a love-in for Michael Ignatieff is no small feat.

Even in Hebert’s home province, the NDP is today holding the 12 percent it got in Quebec six months ago – effectively disproving her claim that “Outremont’s Thomas Mulcair might not even have a seat in parliament after the next election.”

But even if you took Hebert’s wild argument at face value: do you dump a popular leader who brought the NDP from 13 seats to its second highest result in history on the basis of a poll? That’s ridiculous. If polls were all that mattered, we would be marking the 100th day of President Hillary Clinton’s administration today.

Hebert mentions NDP strategist Brian Topp, yet she studiously avoids two points he made in a recent Globe and Mail discussion, 1) New Democrats don’t have the culture of “playing leadership politics” the same as the old line parties and 2) Layton’s leadership is on par with past NDP leaders:

The federal NDP doesn't play leadership politics the way the Liberals and Tories do. We debate things, including the leadership, but don't generally divide into suicidal factions over leadership issues.

Second thing worth saying: Jack Layton has only been federal leader for six years. In that brief time he has taken our caucus from 13 to 37 members, added 1.5 million votes to our column, and has been working very effectively in Parliament in the best traditions of his predecessors. It's true that he didn't get to the Cabinet table (this time) - but he did force a Conservative government to do a 180-degree turn on its what-me-worry policy towards the economic crisis, and to adopt stimulus measures it fundamentally rejected only weeks before. Not bad for the first few weeks of a new Parliament.

The most cynical bit in all of this is that the column doesn't provide anyone, anywhere calling for a change of leadership except for “comments” to a previous column from people she describes as “some New Democrats”.

But only a few weeks ago, Peter Stoffer, among the most independent-minded MPs in the NDP caucus, and one who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Layton gave an unequivocal endorsement of his leader and flatly refuted claims of any displeasure in the grassroots:

"To say that we're looking for a new leader is simply false, I haven't heard that on the ground, I haven't heard that in our caucus, I haven't heard that even privately from people who speak to me on a regular basis. I haven't heard that at all. So it's simply not on."

In sum, the “NDP is down in the polls and Layton needs to go” thesis is the stuff of a Red Bull-fueled imagination. Almost no one is discussing leadership change in party that just achieved its second best result in history. What is out there is an erroneous assumption that there's “panic” based on polls that are not a great deal different from the historic result of the last election.

So what is this really about? Without being out right cynical, who really knows?

But like the klutz who shoves you from behind and then points to the fellow next to him, the only thing that columns like this are trying to do is create a problem where none actually exists.


Sean S. said...

whenever Chantal mentions the NDP in her columns I pull out the ol' salt lick from my desk.

What I would really like to know is why does she have such a hate on for the NDP?

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