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Friday, August 05, 2011 

"Playing 'gotcha' with the NDP" - by Gerry Caplin

"It never stops and never will. The moment the NDP seems even close to power, the knives come out.

The election was May 2. The NDP's rise began barely two weeks prior. Here's what it faced in these past three months:

"MassageGate." Suddenly, just before the election, it became necessary for the Sun media to smear Jack Layton over a massage he had 15 years earlier, and for Christie Blatchford to repeat the smear, even agreeing it was a smear.

"LasVegasGate." The NDP makes history in the election. It sweeps Quebec and emerges as Official Opposition. But its new MPs are immediately dismissed as a joke. Like a gang of bullies picking on someone who can't defend herself, reporters fall all over themselves to mock a candidate who spent part of the election in Las Vegas. She becomes a symbol of the immaturity of the new NDP MPs, even though few reporters had ever spoken to a single one of them. Having finally met them, these stories abruptly ceased.

"Jack'sCancerGate." Within seconds of Mr. Layton's announcement that he was temporarily stepping aside because of a new cancer but intended to return in the fall, the burial of the NDP began. The NDP was finished without Mr. Layton, even though he hadn't resigned. He was irreplaceable. Day after day for an entire week, the rhetorical question got asked and re-asked: Can the NDP make it Jack-less? The answer was seen to be self-evident.

"ComeCleanAboutCancerGate." Out of nowhere, the cry goes up that Mr. Layton must divulge everything about his cancer. What was he hiding? The world had a right and a need to know every single detail. Soon the rest of the pack picked it up. Everyone wanted to know something that was none of their business and of no conceivable use if they did know.

And now, finally, "TurmelGate" -- the scandalous truth that the new acting leader, Nycole Turmel, had been a Bloc Québécois member and that she was therefore a separatist.

All other parties have thrown themselves into the ganging-up with great indignant gusto.

Underlining once again the Caplan Rule that shamelessness is the secret of a successful leader, Stephen Harper -- the Firewall Kid himself, a man who explicitly wanted Alberta to secede from many of the operations of this country -- has the gall to shed crocodile tears of disappointment about Ms. Turmel.

This is very much a teachable moment both for the NDP and for the country.

It was a serious mistake for the NDP not to be transparent about Ms. Turmel's past BQ affiliation when she was chosen interim leader. I'm sure they know that now, after much damage has been done. But they must know too that every day is a potential gotcha day for the NDP and they shouldn't be offering easy ammunition.

On the conservative/business side, there is a fierce determination to make sure the party is not a serious challenger four years from now. In the case of the media, there's the perception of an easy victim, not yet ready for prime time, one that will furnish many a juicy story. Unless it's truly on guard 24/7, instead of being able to pursue its own agenda the party may well find itself permanently on the defensive, warding off blows from every corner.

There's a separate lesson for the country. Quebec is different from the rest of Canada in ways we often ignore. Ms. Turmel is one symbol of this difference. For Ms. Turmel -- Québécoise, Canadian, federalist, trade union leader, New Democrat -- to carry a Bloc card for a few years was no big deal.

Some thought that lesson was learned election night. The reason so many Québécois could move en masse from the Bloc to the NDP was not just because Mr. Layton was a great guy to have a beer with. He also shared and represented their values. Mr. Layton was progressive, a social democrat, committed to social justice. So were many Bloc voters who didn't want Quebec to separate. Those were the social values that the two parties shared and that allowed the massive voting switch once it was clear that the Bloc was an exhausted force.

Maclean's writer Martin Patriquin provides some useful insights. "... it's amazing how few people have clued into this head-smackingly obvious point, but Turmel willingly ripped up her Bloc Québécois membership card to run for a dyed-in-orange federalist party [emphasis in original]. That alone should be evidence enough that her sovereigntist credentials weren't quite Parizeau-calibre. If anything, Turmel's (temporary) ascension to the head of the party, like the NDP's overwhelming victory in May, is proof positive that detaching the left from the sovereigntist movement isn't as impossible as it once was. How far we've come."

It's only a matter of time until Quebec realizes the province and its interests are no longer a priority for much of Canada, especially for a right-wing government that Québécois repudiated and where the west and Ontario dominate. For all of us who can't envision a Canada sans Quebec, there is dangerous potential here. Unexpectedly, the NDP has emerged as the best federalist bridge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Jack Layton and Nycole Turmel are the embodiment of that bridge.


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