CANADA

The New Democrats reach out

MICHAEL ROSE July 15 1985
CANADA

The New Democrats reach out

MICHAEL ROSE July 15 1985

The New Democrats reach out

When Ed Broadbent made his first appearance in the House of Commons as the new leader

of the New Democratic Party 10 years ago last week, Pierre Trudeau welcomed him with a double-edged greeting. As applause from all members subsided, the Prime Minister of the day congratulated the 39-year-old member of Parliament from Oshawa, Ont., for his fourthballot election at the NDP convention two days earlier to replace David Lewis as party leader. Declared Trudeau, to general laughter: “We on this side wish him well—but not too well.”

That was prophetic. Under Broadbent the NDP has done well—but not well enough to overcome the federal twoparty tradition wherein power has changed hands between the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. Broadbent’s NDP has retained its role as an often potent pressure group for social and economic reform in the tradition of its 1930s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). But from its inception in 1961 as a coalition of the CCF and labor unions, the NDP has never elected an MP from Quebec, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, and has never won more than 20 per cent of the popular vote in a federal general election.

Still, in last September’s federal vote the NDP managed to elect 30 members, down by only two from the 1980 election, while the Liberals collapsed to 40 seats from 147. Ever since, the NDP has been trying to move up from third place. At an upbeat policy convention held in Ot-

tawa during the Canada Day weekend, the party endorsed a strategy aimed at broadening its base geographically— notably in Quebec—but also reaffirmed policies which have alienated some middle-of-the-road voters.

To promote the NDP’S presence in Quebec, a party committee chaired by Broadbent and a federal caucus group led by Ottawa MP Michael Cassidy have been set up. As well, a former Ontario MP and onetime federal leadership candidate, John Harney, a native of Quebec City from mixed Irish and French stock who is known by the name Jean-Paul Harney in Quebec, has launched a provincial wing in the hope of winning support at the expense of the troubled Parti Québécois. At the same time, the convention acceded to pressure from the party’s so-called Left Caucus by reaffirming policies that call for Canada’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also urge public ownership of the nation’s major economic institutions.

Delegates also elected by acclamation Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar, 57, to the unpaid position of party president. Some members regard Dewar, who will resign her $63,000-a-year municipal post in November, as a potential national leader, should Broadbent decide to step down. But Broadbent, after a decade on the job, seemed comfortably ensconced, declaring on the convention’s final day: “We have no perfect solutions but, by God, we know whose side we are on.”

MICHAEL ROSE

Bruce Wallace