Canada

Grown-up talk in kids’ corner

Susan Riley December 10 1979
Canada

Grown-up talk in kids’ corner

Susan Riley December 10 1979

Grown-up talk in kids’ corner

Canada

Susan Riley

When Ed Broadbent woke up May 23, his post-election view included 14 new members in his caucus and an average age that had dropped overnight from 49.6 to 37. Many of the newcomers looked like rehabilitated hippies with their trim beards, casual corduroy and collegial airs, and Commons oldtimers were quick to rename the NDP bleachers “kiddies’ corner.” But some of the kids brought classy educations and a political canniness that belies their youth. And, far from rattling party elders, they have enthusiastically fallen in behind Broadbent in hopes he will lead them, if not to power, to prominence as the official Opposition.

The New Democratic Party is still the official voice of the left in Canada. But y these days it is a calculatedly moderate 3 voice. At a recent policy convention in g Toronto—the largest in the party’s history-most of the 1,400 delegates chose the middle road on controversial issues, fully endorsing Broadbent’s pursuit of buttoned-down respectability. There was spirited opposition from the socalled Left Caucus—an informal alliance of radical groups—but it was a far cry from the turbulent days of the dissident Waffle factions when standby blood transfusion units were standard equipment at every party convention. Even more remarkable, it is almost impossible now to find any sniping at the party from the far left.

The new solidarity is most apparent within the 27-member federal caucus, although that doesn’t mean there are not substantial differences between the young and the old. The new MPs may be the legitimate offspring of Tommy Douglas, the CCF and the service-tomankind ethic, but there is also a lot more personal ambition in the air than used to be considered decent for democratic socialism. Some of the newcomers are simply too bright to be content to sit in opposition all their lives. Among the movers to watch:

• Bob Rae, 31, from the eastern Toronto riding of Broadview-Greenwood, is blonde, bright and witty—he once called Treasury Board President Sinclair Stevens the “Rex Humbard of capitalism”—and upwardly mobile. Finance critic after only one year in Ottawa, Rae is on the conservative side of most issues. Nonetheless one Left Caucus delegate to the Toronto convention was so impressed she likened Rae to a “latter-day Tommy Douglas.” He has a patrician background (his father was a diplomat), a Rhodes Scholarship, a law degree, a taste for tweed and flannel, and a rare and welcome gift—a sense of humor. “People accuse us of being selfrighteous,” says Rae. “I tell them we don’t have power, we don’t have

glory, we don’t even have cabinet posts—at least they can leave us our self-righteousness!”

• Bill Blaikie, 28, from WinnipegBird’s Hill, is physically enormous (sixfeet six-inches) and intellectually big for his age. His social-action work as a United Church minister in north Winnipeg pushed the friendly giant to enter politics. He is heir to a long NDP tradition—the marriage of politics and the ministry—although, he says, “the ayatollah is giving us a bad name right now.” Nonetheless, Blaikie sees so-

cialism as a natural outgrowth of the Christian ethic.

• Svend (Baby Face) Robinson, 27, from Burnaby, B.C., looks like the tall, gangly kid at the back of the class whose arms are always too long for his sleeves. But Robinson is no innocent. He held his first press conference—to plead the cause of a Chilean refugee—within weeks of arriving in Ottawa and was scoring national headlines from the back benches within days of the opening of Parliament, accusing cabinet ministers of conflict of interest in their handling of a combines investigation in Western Canada. His brashness has turned off some of his colleagues, but Robinson learns fast and there are already signs he is thinking more before he speaks. Although he bridles at the comparison, Robinson is not unlike Joe Clark: totally absorbed by politics since the age of 14, chosing law over medicine because it would be more useful politically, and already bilingual.

There are a number of other promising MPs—“not a hitch-hiker among them,” says caucus chairman and respected elder Mark Rose, 55—who haven’t yet found their feet in Ottawa’s shifting political sands. Simon de Jong, 38, a storefront community worker in Vancouver in the late 1960s, toiled for the Saskatchewan government in the ’70s, and had just opened a little restaurant “not health food, but nutritious food” in Regina before being elected May 22. Ian Waddell, 37, the speedy little Vancouver lawyer who was counsel for Mr. Justice Thomas Berger’s Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry, may be a victim of the low-profile portfolios he covers (freedom of information, communications and culture) and alphabe? tical order—his desk is in the farthest § left corner of the House. §

Ironically, one of the most radical 2 voices in caucus belongs to a Commons veteran, John Rodriguez, a 42-year-old native of Guyana and former school principal in the Sudbury basin. Titular head of the Left Caucus, Rodriguez lost three important battles at the Toronto convention when delegates—with an eye to coming elections—voted to limit public ownership as the major tool of economic management; not to impose a moratorium on uranium mining; and to encourage Quebeckers to remain within Confederation at the same time acknowledging their right to self-determination. Nonetheless, Roderiguez, who wants the party to pull people to the left rather than moving to the centre to meet the people, was pleased when delegates affirmed PetroCanada as the only tool for resource development.

Heading this curious, diverse band is Ed Broadbent, who continues to be a popular leader and whose party con-

tinues to grow in popularity. Since Pierre Trudeau’s resignation, Broadbent has been saying that the NDP could easily become the official Opposition— particularly if the Liberals turn to the corporate boardroom for their next leader and select John Turner or Donald Macdonald. But Broadbent also no doubt remembers what happened to the NDP in 1974 when the country, tired of minority government, polarized around the two old-line parties and reduced NDP strength from 31 to 16 seats. They may be healthier, happier and more united than ever but, if a bitter fight between the Tories and the Liberals develops in a federal election next year, the NDP could once again be badly hurt. There is at least one small consolation: the party certainly won’t die from internal bleeding.