“Which NDP leadership candidate would you vote for?”
“All of them.” That’s my answer, and my feeble joke. Forget the occasional cry you hear for the seven contenders to unsheathe their claws in debates.
Yes, the federal NDP leadership debates were boring. They were designed for consensus. And the candidates were on their best behaviour during the long job interview.
They followed the actor’s routine — meaning that they suited talk and movement to the role — but they didn’t need to fake their maybe-prime-ministerial politeness. It is inherent in NDP philosophy (though not always visible in Parliament) and it was built into the format of the debates.
The entire campaign, debates included, was short on razzle-dazzle, but it told a story I wanted to hear: Teamwork beats quarrelling; and inventive, people-friendly problem-solving beats business as usual.
Those principles give strength to one another. I don’t pick up a whisper of either one in the blood feuds over personal dominance that rage in the U.S.A. Hopes for creative teamwork are similarly lost in the vendettas that often shake Canada’s Liberal-Conservative establishment.
Problem-solving vibes should radiate from the current Prime Minister’s Office, but I don’t feel any. Just a continuing deadly calm.
By contrast, the NDP “Seven” have put forward many smart political ideas. Martin Singh, a Nova Scotia pharmacist-businessman and leadership candidate, set forth a national pharmacare program which, he calculated, could save taxpayers $5.5 billion while supplying them with needed medicines.
He is a newcomer who has no real national presence. He will not be elected leader; but an NDP federal government is certain to give serious study to his pharmacare deal. Pharmacare plus home care and prevention were the elements Tommy Douglas had in mind for Phase Two of Canada’s public health-care program.
He launched Phase One — doctors’ service and hospital care — provincially in Saskatchewan, while balancing the provincial budget.
Raising public awareness of pharmacare may have been Martin Singh’s purpose when he entered the leadership contest and gained a national platform for his thoughts — which are conservative but precise and systematic.
Harper continues to block national pharmacare. Experts reminded the Romanow health-care commission that provincial and federal governments share health care responsibility.
But the PM takes a narrowly literal view of Canada’s constitution, sees health as a 100 per cent provincial thing and opposes nationally co-ordinated public health care in general, by sitting in the gateway and refusing to move, a heavy lump of non-compliance with popular wishes.
The NDP Seven are united in carving shortcuts through Harper’s resistance — not only in health care but in policy sectors from energy-efficient transit to an electoral system that does a proper job of reflecting public opinion — one of leadership candidate Peggy Nash’s most powerful talking-points.
Beefing up the ability of trade unions to grow, change and make new alliances is a leading item in the platform of Quebec candidate Thomas Mulcair. (Such alliances could include the agreement signed between the United Steelworkers and Mondragon Co-operative.) The NDP needs Mulcair’s quick-footed tactical skill.
For me, each one of the seven looks like a capable future chief. I think 2012 is the time for Brian Topp’s leadership, followed in order of choice by Peggy Nash and Thomas Mulcair.
Many people inside and outside the NDP value Topp highly for his public service as party president and campaign manager in four elections, working closely with Jack Layton, but for me it is Topp’s small but meaningful social moves that pile up his leadership score.
As a decision-maker for showbiz union ACTRA, whose members average about $15,000 a year, Topp launched a credit union.
Its loans have been a life-saver for many of Canada’s talented but sporadically-employed actors.
—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and regular columnist with the Gazette.