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gerald caplan

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.

Election day was exactly seven weeks ago, and much has changed that needed changing. The Dark Ages have been ceremoniously expelled while the Canadian Spring seems to have been ushered in.

A strong majority of the Canadian people have demonstrated that the Harper government failed in its attempt to change the country's values. Smaller communities, for one shining example, are now demanding that they too get at least a few refugees to resettle, while polls show most Canadians support serious action to combat global warming. That's the decent, sensible Canada that rules once again.

Then there are our opposition political parties. The Trudeau honeymoon has already begun to wilt with Nannygate. Now, as Parliament briefly reconvenes, we need to see who will offer the most cogent opposition.

Logically it should be the NDP; it is, after all, the almost permanent Canadian gold medal holder for opposition. But hold on. Where is the NDP anyway? The NDP seems to be MIA. It's been disappeared. I'm no longer even inundated by those mind-numbing e-mails that threatened to ruin the election for me.

Partly it was stolen by Trudeau Liberals. I don't just mean progressive voters, old and new, who voted Liberal on Oct. 19. Every New Democrat I know wonders why all those stellar new cabinet ministers with wonderful credentials ran for the Liberals, not the NDP. It's deeply disconcerting. It can't be a happy sign for the NDP.

These new ministers reflect very positively on their leader, which reminds me: Whatever happened to the NDP leader? Sightings have been sporadically noted, so he's still among us. But what's he doing to determine why his party was so unexpectedly and roundly trounced on Oct. 19. A perfunctory announcement of two insiders conducting a postmortem came and went. Just as well. Having people who ran the campaign now dissect it is the worst possible step he could take.

So is he actually doing something? Is it a secret? What was his own role and that of his advisers in having orange crushed? The party demands credible answers to these central questions.

Does he want to remain leader? Apparently so. But why? Do party stalwarts want him? Who knows. The whole party has PESD – Post Election Stress Disorder. The defeat has largely silenced it at every level. It's shaken, but not stirred. But surely this eerie situation can't long continue. The country needs a thriving NDP, but Canadians must be reminded why. So do the stalwarts.

As for the new Official Opposition, these Conservatives have learned a little something from their defeat. But very little, and not nearly enough. No one, but no one, can have missed the huge sigh of relief emanating from le tout Canada after the election. This, strangely, even included media that had just endorsed the Harper government. Even they felt liberated, as if a dark cloud had been lifted and the cramped, mean Harper years came to an abrupt end.

Conservatives have it right that their tone had been all wrong, egregiously wrong. But they're sorely mistaken if they think their low, dishonest years can now simply be forgotten, and that merely acting less disrespectfully will soon lead to their redemption. That can't and won't happen. Their appalling record mustn't soon be forgotten or papered over. We have the right to know what role their prospective new leaders played in establishing this record.

Not least reprehensible among their sins was the secret revealed only after the election. In their final days in office, the Harper cabinet made 49 "future appointments" to government boards and agencies that would kick in even if the party were defeated. It was a way to maintain influence in key sectors. This was a quintessential Conservative move, both sneaky and undemocratic – an attempt to tie the hands of its successor government. Did acting Conservative leader Rona Ambrose approve such duplicity? Did a single one of the aspirants to the party's leadership oppose it? Do they expect not to be asked, and judged accordingly?

Can Tony Clement get away with merely agreeing he made a mistake in eliminating the long-form census without explaining why he did so? Did any leadership candidate oppose this decision, or any other government wickedness? Was it all The Boss's fault? Did anyone ever stand up to him? And if not, what does it say about their character?

Ambition did make cowards of them all. Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney, Chris Alexander, all nonchalantly smeared critics who embarrassed or simply disagreed with the government. Should we now just forgive and forget? Does the ambitious Kellie Leitch think she won't be asked about her central role in proposing that racist and bigoted "Barbaric Cultural Practices" hotline? What kind of person must she really be?

The Conservatives' deplorable record must not be forgotten or excused quickly. They must be seen to be in purgatory and must earn the right to criticize others. One electoral defeat doesn't nearly make amends for a decade of rubbishing the Canadian dream.

As for the NDP, to be the real opposition, as it's always claimed, first they must be seen.