Monday May. 16 2011  BACK   NEXT

Layton's tough task

by Angelo Persichilli

The art of predicting the future is becoming more and more difficult. If you don’t believe me, just ask economists and pollsters.

Having said that, I still see some potential problems ahead for the NDP after the party’s stunning victory in Quebec and in the rest of the country on May 2.

There’s no doubt that the campaigning style of NDP Leader Jack Layton combined with the organizational skills of NDP national director Brad Lavigne were two of the most important elements of the party’s well deserved victory. Still, we have to keep in mind that their major accomplishment was to be in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and proper plan.

Let’s also face it. Layton ’s great campaigning skills and Lavigne’s diligent organization and hard work would have passed unnoticed if two other crucial elements hadn’t materialized.

The first one is Bloc Québécois voters’ decision to dump leader Gilles Duceppe and his party for reasons that require more time before we can fully understand them.

The second element relates to the perceived lack of alternatives at their disposal. Bloc voters didn’t feel comfortable with the Conservatives and were fed up with the Liberals, so they fled like a flock towards the only perceived available harbour: the NDP.

This tells us two things. The first is related to Duceppe’s much talked- about “charisma.” It didn’t exist and the media, always looking for heroes, invented it. I wrote many times in the past that the success of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec had nothing to do with Duceppe but did have something to do with circumstances.

Charisma, unless you rob a bank without a mask on your face at noon in downtown Montreal , is not something that evaporates in two weeks. Duceppe was a mediocre politician who happened to be at the right place at the right time when Lucien Bouchard was lured into provincial politics.

Bloc leaders, as well as Parti Québécois leaders, knew that all along. In fact, when they needed a charismatic leader in 1995, they co-opted Bouchard to lead them provincially. But when they had to replace André Boisclair, despite offering his candidacy, Duceppe was told to stay where he was.

They knew that he was not a leader but only a caretaker.

But let’s go back to the NDP’s new life. Its success is related mainly to the same people who brought the Progressive Conservatives of Brian Mulroney to the top of Canadian politics, but also those who reduced the same organization to a party of two (of course with the help of Preston Manning in the rest of the country). They are the same people who created the aura of “charisma” around a mediocre politician like Duceppe and, at once, with no advance notice, fired him.

Two weeks into the election the New Democrats were having serious problems, the Liberals were sucking a lot of Layton ’s votes, and Duceppe’s Bloc was flying high. What happened to provoke such a political earthquake only a few weeks later? Layton did not discover the cure for cancer and Duceppe didn’t kill anybody. Oh, yes, we had the televised leaders’ debates.

But let’s be serious: is it possible that a heated exchange between Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was the spark that ignited the chain reaction of the political atomic bomb that detonated on May 2? If the answer is positive, I believe that no politician in Canada can be safe if their political future hinges on a cute statement on TV.

I don’t know what provoked the tectonic movement that destroyed the Bloc and reduced the Liberal Party to rubbles. What I do know is that the NDP’s stunning victory is like a deck of cards that can collapse even if someone sneezes—unless Layton doesn’t move swiftly. Layton has more than four years to figure out how to transform this fragile structure into a solid organization and the next governing party.

Layton has to be very careful about how he handles the expectations of his new friends in Quebec who dominate his caucus and, at the same time, he doesn’t want to alienate the rest of the country being perceived only as second fiddle behind Thomas Mulcair.

This is a huge and well deserved opportunity for Layton and the NDP, but he has to act quickly to clarify his relationship with Quebec . Some might be disappointed, but if he fails to to do that, he might taste the same bitter medicine that obliterated Duceppe.

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