Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Jack Layton and the NDP: 2006 Year in Review

The NDP started the year off with a bang by capturing 29 seats in the 2006 federal election, triggered in part by the NDP’s refusal to continue to prop up Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government. I never quite understood why the NDP pulled the plug on the Liberals, especially given the disproportionate amount of policy influence Layton and the NDP caucus had over the Liberals. Pundits correctly pointed out that the NDP had re-written the federal budget and achieved concrete results for working families in the process. Nevertheless, after the electoral dust settled, Stephen Harper was Prime Minister leading a minority government, and the New Democrats lost their considerable influence.

After reading the text of Jack Layton’s year end press conference, it is painfully clear just how much influence the NDP has lost. Even worse, Layton is now seen as an opportunist rather than a policy engineer or even a social conscience. The party’s lower standing in recent public opinion polls reflects this view. Rather than tackle the Tories head on while the Liberals were in disarray, the NDP embarked on an ill-advised strategy (which defied all of Canadian history and political culture) to re-orient Canadian federal politics along a left-right axis with the New Democrats and Conservatives as the two major parties, squeezing out the Liberals for good.

Needless to say, the strategy was a flop and the NDP has produced very few concrete policy results in 2006. Admittedly, in terms of strategic capacity, our current minority government is very different from the last won. That said, was the increase in seats for the NDP really worth it given the party’s dwindling legislative influence? I suppose we’ll have to wait until the next federal election to get a definitive answer.