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April 15, 2013, by

A pox on both our houses


Justin Trudeau’s leadership acceptance speech this weekend.

by Michael Wheeler

Members of two the largest national opposition parties came together to make major decisions over the weekend.

In Montreal, the Official Opposition New Democrats continued to move towards the political centre at their policy convention, moderating the pursuit of “socialism” in the party’s constitution. In Ottawa, the third place centrist Liberals, running first in some polls, elected a leader with immediate celebrity status and political pedigree in Justin Trudeau.

Members of both parties are now returning to their homes across the country, fired up by the energy of working, campaigning and partying with likeminded organizers and activists.

For New Democrats, who have been working to solidify the gains of the past election as a credible Government in Waiting, they head home believing they are better placed than ever before to form the first ever Social Democrat-led Canadian government.

For Liberals, there will be a sense that their time in the wilderness is coming to an end: Suitably shamed for the Sponsorship Scandal, many feel powered by Trudeau-mania 2.0 they will soon reclaim government as the ‘Natural Governing Party of Canada’.

My belief is they are both wrong. Here’s why:

Energy. Young, innovative, passionate, creative, energy.

Where is it in our politics? More than anywhere else, it is in the protest movements within these parties working to make them less-partisan, more cooperation-driven entities.

Nathan Cullen went from NDP Leadership outside long-shot to extremely capable Official Opposition House Leader based largely on the energy of those that advocated cooperating with other parties to defeat Harper and reform Parliament. By the end of the leadership campaign, Cullen had signed up more new NDP members and received more votes from the floor than any other candidate, including eventual winner Thomas Mulcair.

The only candidate with enough resources to mount a sustained and legitimate campaign against the Liberal Establishment JT Juggernaut was Joyce Murray. With support from environmental groups and LeadNow, and powered by much of the same grassroots activist energy that fed the Cullen campaign, Murray also proposed cooperation with the opposition to defeat Harper and reform Parliament.

Thomas Mulcair's speech at the NDP Policy Convention this weekend.

Thomas Mulcair’s speech at the NDP Policy Convention this weekend.

These events having come to pass, and non-cooperative leaders having taken the reigns of these political machines, conventional wisdom is that these issues have been dealt with now. Each political party has a right to believe in its own manifest destiny and each has chosen to exercise that right.

Notwithstanding the Keystone pipeline, Senate reform and foreign investment, the policies and positions Trudeau and Mulcair represent will be hugely overlapping. These leaders will not ask their members, staff and volunteers to exclusively put their energy and hopes into defeating the Conservative Government. They will be putting significant energy into fighting tooth-and nail-ground wars between NDP and Liberal candidates with never-before-this-similar platforms.

The paradox of this use of political energies is vividly apparent in my riding of Parkdale-High Park in Toronto. How many activist hours, paid and volunteer on both sides of the fence, have already cumulatively been used determining whether Peggy Nash or Gerard Kennedy will represent the riding? Zero sum math about this question is not all that useful in any case, as it can’t account for how many more citizens would be inspired to participate in more meaningful, less alienating, electoral proposition.

Meanwhile, with each election, the size of Stephen Harper’s Government grows.

There is more than enough committed, creative, energy in this country to transform it politically. It is bursting at the seams in fact – looking for a chance to be a part of a seismic change that will sweep Canada when we find our collective will to elect a government that makes laws informed by rational evidence and human decency.

As long as this energy remains split between Liberals and New Democrats (and Greens, but they’re not the problem here), and as long as this energy remains focused on each other instead of Harper, we are likely to have Conservative Canadian Governments.

This is a problem of our own creation and it is within our power to solve.

The attack ads on Justin Trudeau are done.

I imagine they practically wrote themselves.

Ohh yes. They’re brutal. They’re going to ruin him.

Yeah, I’m worried about that too. We need him. If the ads are too successful and he gets into trouble, we’ll have to pull them.

*From Proud by Michael Healey, who has already expressed his reservations about political cooperation in this space.

If we must share power to end a terrible government in a time of great need – can we not set aside our own personal baggage and do what needs to be done here? How long will the clear democratic will of the country that consistently votes 60% + for centre-left parties be thwarted by the drive of these two competing parallel political brands to replace one another?

There are significant obstacles to overcome here, not the least of which are decades of mistrust, hubris, power and core values. It is a real test for both parties, which asks them to be committed to Canada first, and their own interests second. It is a proposition that could not be asked of a private citizen or corporation, but it is entirely appropriate to ask of a political party:

Do the right thing. Not because it will help you. Not because it will create vindication for anyone. Not because you and your party will always be remembered. Do it because it is your job as political parties to harness, encourage and express the political energy of the country. This energy has expressed itself clearly in multiple forms and political contexts.

Set aside incremental differences and both use both hands to throw the bums out.

It’s that simple. It can be done. After all, political parties are made up of people, run by people, and an unprecedented act of cooperation and political transformation is the energy inspiring people in Canada today.

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