Overheard in a coffee shop lineup near Parliament Hill last week just after Alexa McDonough announced her retirement: “Hey, I hear Audrey McLaughlin is quitting the NDR"
And so it goes for the hapless party of what’s left. McDonough, who steps down after leading the New Democratic Party for seven years but will, for now, stay on as an MR never lifted it from the doldrums it settled into under her predecessor. The similarity of their names only underlined the feeling that not much changed. At least McDonough’s choice of when to pack it in showed a little panache. She stole some attention-well, for a brief moment-from the clash of titans going on across the aisle in the House. Those unfavourably inclined toward Jean Chrétien observed that at least the NDP leader knew when to call it quits. But the Prime Minister praised heras “a great personality,” and thanked McDonough for struggling to speak a little French as a national party leader.
The spotlight directed their way by McDonough’s announcement is an unfamiliar glare for New Democrats these days. Their caucus numbers just 14
MPs, far below its 1988 pinnacle of 43. Even worse, the energy on the Canadian left is now mostly beyond the party’s reach-in the ranks of the anti-globalization kids and non-partisan activists like Democracy Watch, the feisty group that’s risen to prominence by attacking the Liberals’ record on ethics. That leaves those vying to succeed McDonough with a tough choice to make. Should the party put its efforts into luring non-aligned activists into the fold with a staunchly left-wing approach? Or should it aim centre-left and compete for mainstream votes with the Liberals?
Among the likely candidates, veteran MP Lome Nystrom is seen as a moderate. Jack Layton, a Toronto city councillor, and Svend Robinson, a publicity-hungry British Columbia MR are unabashed lefties. So is Buzz Hargrove, the head of the Canadian Auto Workers, who has mused about running and who has been openly critical of the party’s centrist leanings. Manitoba MP Bill Blaikie is a respected voice, possessed of a sort of folksy anti-charisma. And with his full beard, Blaikie would bring the advantage of being unlikely to blur, in the minds of voters, with the last two leaders. J.G.
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