Wandering in the wilderness with the NDP.

Leader Thomas Mulcair is hardly the only New Democrat with something to prove at the party’s Edmonton Convention April 9 to 10. Sure, he needs to justify his leadership but the real question is where Canada’s New Democratic Party is headed? It is obviously not the direction that Mulcair chose for the last federal election.

The party’s problem is that it has absolutely no idea where it should go. It has tried socialist leaders, unionist leaders, populist leaders and more recently opportunist leaders. And what success has been had? While there have been some briefly successful provincial leaders, there has been little encouragement federally—except for the brief surge that was called the Orange Wave.

The Orange Wave was not orchestrated by the NDP. It served to ensure a Conservative majority in the 2011 election. It was an opportunity for Stephen Harper to ward off the Liberal Party. If the Conservatives could not win in Quebec, Harper certainly did not want it to go to the Liberals. And it worked.

But losing Jack Layton was not the game plan. And why did Stephen Harper order an unprecedented state funeral for the Leader of the Opposition? He was trying to seal the fate of the now third-place Liberal Party.

The problem for the NDP was the “safe” choice of Thomas Mulcair to replace Layton. Mulcair’s experience was as a civil servant and as a cabinet minister with a right-of-centre Liberal government in Quebec. Why this background would prepare him to lead the federal NDP was not really clear to us observers.

While Mulcair made a name for himself as opposition leader in prosecuting the Harper Conservatives in the House of Commons, it was his failure in the 2015 election that surprised his party. The NDP were blind-sided when Mulcair took a position to the right of Trudeau’s Liberals. The Liberals were the risk takers, the social activists and the progressives and moved from a third place party to a majority government.

And where does that leave Mulcair and his New Democrats? Does the socialist caucus of the NDP take over? Does the party turn to someone such as MP Nathan Cullen from British Columbia and say “Show us a plan for the future of the party”?

There can be a role for the party as the conscience of parliament. There is also a role that it could play as the conscience of the Liberal Party. Either is important.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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