Is It Time to Give Jack Layton and the NDP a Shot?

The latest poll has Mr. Layton and the New Democratic Party he leads in an odd situation: The party remains stubbornly at about 16% in the polls, while Jack Layton himself is the second most trusted politician, and the most trusted to lead a coalition, should it come to that. His personal credibility is not rubbing off on the party he leads.

I suspect many Canadians feel as I do about the Conservatives and Liberals: meh. Uninspiring, either one will keep us on much the same path Canada has been on for decades: largely following the U.S. lead, basing our economy on exports of raw resources, and pork barrel politics.

The latter is what got the Liberals tossed out some years ago, and from which they have never recovered, thanks to the rise of the Bloc, the Greens,and of course the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have turned out to be no better, with a long list of scandals that easily equals the worst the Liberals did with Adscam. (In my own riding, the Conservatives built “an overpass to nowhere.” They spent millions on an overpass to the Victoria airport, a tiny airport with no need whatsoever of an overpass, while promising to build the much-needed Mckenzie Road overpass in a nearby – Liberal – riding if those voters elected a Conservative.  If that’s not porkbarrel politics, I don’t know what is, and from a guy who promised to clean up government.)

And yet, none of this seems to ‘stick’ to Mr. Harper or his Conservatives; they remain stubbornly at around 35%, give-or-take, in the polls. I suspect the reasons are that people are utterly uninspired by the alternatives, most of us in the west don’t trust the Liberals as far as we could throw their bloated and festering carcass, and combined with the loss of 50 seats in Quebec to the Bloc, the Liberals may well be done as Canada’s “natural ruling party.” No loss, as far as many of us are concerned.

However, that does leave us with two uncomfortable problems: Porkbarrel Steve is clearly getting more blatantly corrupt  the longer he is in power. This seems to be a natural thing; power really does corrupt. Really, building prisons – while the crime rate is declining – for “unreported crimes?” How does Mr. Harper plan to fill those new billion-dollar prisons? Or the relatively recent and quite disgusting gorging at the public trough that were the G20 and G8 summits – how does Mr. Clean justify that massive doling out of pork in the middle of a recession? There are a lot better ways to create jobs, and it shouldn’t mainly go to your buddies. It’s time to change the political diaper.

It seems to me that Stevie has had his day. As Layton says in one of the NDP’s campaign ads, Stephen Harper has simply replaced Liberal scandals with his own. But, given that many of us no longer consider the Liberals a viable alternative to the Conservatives, where do we go?

Go Green?

I find the Green Party actually very progressive conservative in many ways, but they haven’t been able to elect a single candidate since their inception. The momentum they had after Jim Harris greatly increased the Green vote has sputtered and stalled under Elizabeth May. Suggestions that proportional representation are needed may be true (all European democracies use some form of PR), but the Reform and then Conservative Party managed to gain seats without it.

Overall, I doubt the Greens are going to make much of a breakthrough under Elizabeth May and with their current messaging strategy.

NDP: Social Democrats with a Failure to Communicate

Like the Green Party, the NDP seem to have a very difficult time appealing to those outside their ‘base.’ They are stuck at ~16% in the polls, and I believe the main reasons are:

  • The economy is doing tolerably well, which always favours incumbents, and
  • They just don’t know how to talk to people who don’t already ‘get’ what they’re saying.

The Greens also suffer from both problems, but the NDP do have seats and decent organization. What they lack, completely and utterly, is humility. The result is that they keep preaching to the choir while getting frustrated when nobody outside the church converts.

If you look at what the NDP want to do, it could actually be quite popular with a much broader cross-section of Canadians than it currently is. Essentially, the NDP want to bring Canada more in-line with what well-run social democracies like Germany, Denmark, and Norway do. Germany, for those not paying attention, is an economic powerhouse.

  • Germany is who the broke nations of the EU turn to for bailouts
  • Germany has a trade surplus of high-tech manufactured goods with China
  • Germany has a high rate of unionisation, yet labour problems are rare – because the unions serve on the Boards of Directors and have a significant say in a company’s strategic and tactical decisions (and guess what: workers think longer-term than CEOs, who tend to focus on next quarter’s profits and their own bonuses)
  • Germany has a solid, stable manufacturing base
  • Germany is moving into the ‘green’ economy in a huge way, including being a leading producer of things like wind turbines, high-speed trains, and buildings that use zero energy for heating and cooling

What Canadian wouldn’t want Canada to be doing the same? We don’t just have to export our raw resources, leading to a boom-and-ultimately-bust economy. How much will a house in Fort McMurray be worth when the tar sands have been drained dry? About the same as houses in any other mining town when the mine closes: A heck of a lot less than people paid for them during the boom.

If the NDP would shift us in a more German/Nordic economic direction, this would be a very good thing. It would rebuild our manufacturing base while ensuring unions and management work for the best for all. It would give Alberta and Saskatchewan a manufacturing base to buffer the ups-and-downs of a resource-based economy.

The NDP would shift tar sands subsidies to things like wind and solar factories, both energy sources the prairies ultimately have more of than oil. Imagine if Jean Chretien had done this after he signed the Kyoto Accord; billions of dollars would have been put into clean and green energy and thousands of jobs created.

We need to start doing things like this: rebuilding a competitive manufacturing base, becoming a world leader in ‘green energy,’ and eliminating labour-corporate strife.

Too bad the NDP doesn’t know how to talk to anyone but themselves. Jack, if you want some help talking to people outside the church, give me a call. I won’t hold my breath; I bet tonight’s debate will be yet another wasted opportunity to reach out.


As requested, here is some information on the German economy, and why it is a model that Canada would be wise to follow.

A good place to start is Wikipedia, of course, which points out that Germany, despite being “relatively poor in raw materials,” and needing to import two-thirds of its energy, is “the largest national economy in Europe, the fourth-largest by nominal GDP in the world.” Germany exited the recession in 2009.

Keep in mind that Germany had the very heavy burden of reunifying the formerly Communist East Germany with the free West, and that placed a very heavy burden on the country as a whole that has still not been overcome.

Here’s an excellent article on German economic strength. Some high points:

  • “Germany’s per-capita income was $44,600 [compared to] America’s $47,500 — an impressive performance in itself and all the more so when you realize that the typical German worker put in just 1,432 hours in 2008 versus 1,792 hours for the typical American.”
  • “Germans now live nearly 14 months longer on average than Americans.”
  • “From 1998 to 2008 the German current account went from a deficit of $5.9 billion to a surplus of $267.1 billion. The contrast with the United States could hardly be starker: The American current account deficit shot from $233.8 billion in 1998 to $568.8 billion in 2008.”
  • “Germany is a leader in key new technologies, including renewable energy such as solar and wind power.”

There’s lots more, from six weeks annual paid vacation to a much better social safety net to worker involvement in corporate decision making, which results in higher productivity (if lower executive salaries). Google away.


This post has sparked quite a bit of comment; for an interesting discussion, head over to the thread at Reddit.


#1 Tom Bradfield on 04.12.11 at 3:28 pm

So a question is posed in the title, followed by a thousand words pointing to problems in all the parties; but what is the answer? It sounds like ‘no’, but maybe ‘yes’.

In a time of diminishing resources, left and right are so twentieth century. Time to bypass outrage politics and move on to 21st century solutions. And that, to me, spells Green. Clearly, my answer to your question is ‘no’.

#2 Angus on 04.12.11 at 6:20 pm

Great article. Would love it if you made some references available (e.g. for Germany, etc…) – I know I could go google everything… but I bet you already have the links. :)

#3 elasticsoul on 04.12.11 at 6:53 pm

Hi Angus. I do have some links and have done some research generally. :) I added an update to the article for those interested in why the German economy is a model we would be wise to follow.

Tom, I don’t believe I mentioned left versus right, which I believe is a false choice and simply divisive. While, as I said in the article, I like the Green policies, I don’t consider them electable under current leadership.

#4 Tony Kitzky on 04.12.11 at 7:04 pm

I whole heartedly agree that the NDP is sorely lacking in it’s ability to communicate beyond their existing supporters. Jack has a popular message. Jack and NDP have a record of cooperation in parliament. Jack has a certain trustworthiness and charisma that can ignite a campaign. The NDP has the legacy of Tommy Douglas and national healtchare.

WHY IS THE NDP NOT GAINING GROUND??? I know a lot of Canadians think “tax-n-spend” when they think NDP. The NDP have some ghosts in Ontario with former provincial governments. But, NDP’s track record in Saskatchewan is solid. Canada would be doing well if we had Saskatchewan’s surplus federally.

Another big problem for the NDP is their lack of awe-inspiring local candidates. That’s probably just my own uninformed layman’s opinion. I am having a hard time remembering anybody’s name in the party beyond Mr. Layton. Heck, it took me an hour to find anything about my local NDP candidate in Winnipeg South.

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