These days, joining a political party in Canada is a fairly simple thing: go to party website; click ‘join’; fill out form; send. Making the decision to abandon the party that one has been wedded to since before voting age? Not so easy.
Last night, after many years of faithful support, I decided to leave behind the NDP and join the Liberal Party of Canada.
Several factors have led me to this difficult decision (bolstered by a couple strong belts of Chivas Regal). The results of this past weekend’s Liberal leadership convention gave me more hope for Canadian democracy than I’ve held in years. Unlike previous conventions, Liberal delegates gave the nod to the person who most deserves to hold the position. New leader Stephane Dion is a policy wonk, a thoughtful intellectual who, unlike some, doesn’t need to adorn himself in Trudeau’s legacy to shore up national credibility; his staunch centralist Federalism and passion for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has already been been well articulated throughout his ten years in Parliament. Dion also realizes that the critical issue facing Canada–and the world–is climate change. A serious policy platform is required to address CO2 emissions, as laid out in the Kyoto accord.Besides the attractiveness of the new Grit leadership, internal factors within the NDP also contributed to my shift in political allegiance. Jack Layton was never my first choice for NDP leader (Bill Blaikie got screwed, goddammit!) He’s always struck me as insubstantial and superficial, someone a focus group decided was most electable rather than the best person for the job – the sort of candidate who has become all too familiar in recent years. Since taking the helm, Layton seems content to languish in third-party obscurity within the current minority Parliament. He crows about affording hollow credibility to an empty, pro-business Tory ‘made in Canada’ environment policy without mentioning Kyoto once. And kicking Buzz Hargrove out of the party (and losing the CAW, a traditional base constituency) seems extremely shortsighted and counterproductive for a social democratic party.
But the primary NDP policy plank I no longer can reconcile involves Quebec and its status within Canada. At its recent policy convention this past September, the NDP adopted the Sherbrooke Declaration, recognizing Quebec’s unique status within a ‘united’ Canada and its right to ‘self-determination’. These developments greatly trouble me. Deep down, I am a rigid federalist in the Trudeau mould. Assigning special designation to a province is an affront to the principles of equality enshrined in the constitution.
And of course there’s our current government.
When Stephen Harper reopened the constitutional debate with his ill-advised ‘Quebecois Nation’ resolution (unanimously supported by the NDP), I was reminded (not in a good way) of Meech Lake and Charlottetown; of Canada almost ripping apart at the seams in 1995, when federalism barely eked out a slim victory against the forces of separation and division. Harper, he of the infamous ‘firewall letter’, is no federalist. At times he almost seems embarrassed to be a Canadian. I do not feel he is the one who should lead this great nation into the 21st century.
The damage to the fabric of Canadian society already wrought by the Tories is staggering. Besides throwing a bone to Quebec sovereigntists, this merry band of Yankee-loving neocon ideologues has shown nothing but contempt for basic Canadian values and principles. Imagine what they’ll do if a majority is secured. The next election will determine the course Canada will take into the next decade: environmental responsibility or ‘open for business’; a social safety net that includes child care, or one dictated by a conservative ideology that reflexively prescribes tax cuts as a one-size-fits-all solution; a universal, publicly funded single payer health care system, or a two tier system in which those with financial means can jump the queue; a foreign policy that is internationally respected, or one that identifies us as a satellite state of the US; in short, it will determine whether Canada retains its unique identity.
The constitutional debate once again threatens the nation’s unity. A strong federalist government is required to prevent Separatist forces in Quebec from making a major power play over the coming months. I believe Stephane Dion–and the Liberal Party–will keep the dream of a united, multicultural, independent and environmentally responsible Canada from becoming an historical footnote.
edited for form and content