Dr. Dawg

The NDP gives up a pawn for position

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A few weeks ago, the Bloc Québécois set a trap for the NDP. With a private member’s Bill to repeal the *Clarity Act”, the BQ made a direct pitch to the NDP’s Quebec constituency, which had been wooed into the federalist fold by Jack Layton.

The NDP has not yet put down deep roots in Quebec: it can take nothing for granted. Its support there is conditional. The last election brought with it no Damascene conversion to federalism, but a pragmatic calculation by Quebec electors. The winning formula was a combination of social democratic principles and the promise of some accommodation to Quebec nationalist sentiment, which remains surprisingly strong.

The Clarity Act is still seen by many Quebeckers as a thorn in the side of Quebec, setting conditions for the achievement of self-determination that amount to endlessly moving goalposts. It’s difficult to negotiate anything when the other party gets to set all the conditions for bargaining. The Act itself is anything but clear, and that’s deliberate. It allows the federal government to reject a referendum question and also the majority that might decide that question in the affirmative, effectively foreclosing any negotiations from the start.

The BQ cut right to the chase with its Bill, forcing the issue. That could have left the NDP with two impossible choices: line up with the BQ, offending much of its base in the rest of Canada, or line up with the Liberals and Conservatives, alienating its new-found Quebec constituency, including a number of its backbenchers. So the NDP fashioned a Bill of its own.

It was a nimble exercise. The Bill required that a referendum question had to be clear, and provided examples. The courts, not one of the parties to negotiations, would arbitrate in the case of disagreement on wording. And the words “clear majority,” left undefined in the Act, would be 50% plus 1.

The pundits yowled, but the NDP had calculated well. The BQ Bill was soundly defeated in the Commons by a vote of 283-5, and the NDP’s own positioning in the matter led to only one defection from its backbenches, the virtually unknown Claude Patry.

Bizarrely, the media saw all this as a grave wound for the NDP. It was anything but. On this most politically sensitive of issues, the NDP caucus held together. The party adroitly dodged a bullet.

The story is not yet ended, of course. The NDP’s “Unity Bill” has yet to come up for debate and a vote. That Bill sets out an entirely defensible position from a federalist point of view, while achieving, at least thus far, near-perfect unity in its own ranks.

So much for “deep divisions” and “pandering to the separatists.” The other parties and the punditocracy will yammer to their heart’s content, but if I were Tom Mulcair, I’d be smiling at the moment. Well played, sir.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 10, 2013 12:17 PM.

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