Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Separatism redux, courtesy of Jack Layton's NDP

Separatism Redux
The centre of gravity of the NDP has shifted to the two largest provinces – Ontario and Quebec. In a sense, having ousted the Bloc Quebecois from power in Ottawa, the NDP under Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair has also done a bit of a time-shift, back to the turbulent 70's and 80's, when the burning question in Canada was whether it would stay united, or end up with some form of federal system between an independent Quebec and the ROC.

The Cat has thoughtfully provided a redesigned NDP logo which more correctly represents the 'new' New Democratic Party's centres of gravity, for consideration by Jack and his large Caucus.

The NDP has straddled the Quebec independence issue for years, and succeeded in getting away with it because it really did not play a meaningful role in that province.

All this has now changed, as Jack Layton is finding out even before his new batch of Francophone MPs have cut their teeth in the House:

The question on the table: Does the NDP still believe a 50-per-cent-plus-one score is enough for Quebec to separate or does his party back the Clarity Act passed by the old Liberal government of Jean Chr├ętien after the close 1995 referendum?

The NDP voted in favour of the Clarity Act, which allows the House of Commons to decide if a referendum question is clear, but has on its books the 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration which says the National Assembly is free to write a question and that 50 per cent plus one is enough to decide on secession.

On Tuesday, a day that was supposed to be devoted to the historic victory caucus of the 103 NDP MPs elected May 2, the issue became a storm cloud hovering over Layton's head at a news conference.

He wound up dodging and weaving when asked to explain how to reconcile the contradiction.

We can look forward to much more dodging and weaving by Layton on this issue, because the NDP has never been called to account for its position on the unity of Canada as now constituted.

However, now Layton has to spell out what he and his party mean by their support for Quebec as a nation, and for a new deal for Quebec. The party constitution says one thing, but the federal laws of the land and the provincial laws say different things. The NDP says it supports much greater provincial autonomy, including for Quebec the use of only French in all federal instutions in Quebec. But in the rest of Canada these positions might not go down as well as in Quebec.

However, we can also look forward to some serious re-consideration of the position of the Liberal Party on the role of the federal government in Canada, on the devolution of powers and taxing authority to the provinces, and on the re-thinking of how federal programs might  be applied in provincial jurisdictions, through opt-in and opt-out programs.

And to top all of this, we will find all 3 major parties grappling with the thorny issue of asymmetrical federalism. Is it fair to all provinces to just give Quebec new powers or treatment? And if it is not, do we allow all provinces to opt-in to any gestures made to Quebec?

Interesting times coming.

Let's get that rebuilding going fast so that Liberal members can have a real hand in these interesting discussions, through their input on Liberal Party policies.


  1. I heard Bob Rae say why he got away from the NDP, and that they were not at all like the Socialists overseas, but I can't remember what he said about the party.

  2. Rae said the social democrat parties in Europe had moved away from socialism (state ownership of major entities, and major emphasis on redistribution of tax income plus opposition to business). He felt that the NDP was frozen in time on these issues; he believed they should have advanced as well. Rae sounded a lot like he thought the Labour Party move to New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon was the way to go for the NDP.

    Rae has said that he believed any serious party in Canada had to have policies supporting business, and supporting the creation of wealth, not just the redistribution of wealth.

    The NDP constitution still favours unions is not exactly business-friendly.


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