Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former New Democratic Party national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.
Leave it to the Green Party to have a convention in the heart of an Ottawa summer. And on the very weekend that the Rio Olympics began. Such dedication, such self-sacrifice, such anonymity. Who even knew it was taking place? This is a political party that actively strives for obscurity. And with much success. Do you know a Green Party supporter?
Still, the Green Party made post-convention news for a few unexpected reasons. First, a pollster told the gathering that the Greens could actually win more seats than the NDP in the near future. If proportional representation is introduced by the government, that would greatly increase the number of Green MPs, maybe even "leapfrogging" the NDP.
I think this is mostly hooey since it would increase the number of NDP seats as well. Both parties have been cursed by voters who hate to "waste" their vote on a candidate with no chance of winning. PR would remove that constraint for both parties.
Second, the convention was guaranteed some headlines when delegates voted in favour of the BDS campaign against Israel – boycott, divestment and sanctions. Despite much hysteria, in principle BDS is a perfectly legitimate foreign policy tool to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and isn't inherently anti-Semitic in any way. Sure it's intensely provocative, and that's okay, too. Maybe the Greens should get a C for courage. Or is it an F for foolhardiness?
But it's beyond bizarre that the convention addressed only two foreign policy resolutions and both related to Israel. In this entire wretched world, only Israel's sins engage the Greens? This gives real succour to those who are certain that anti-Semitism was at work and discredits the party badly.
Third, Green Leader Elizabeth May strongly disagreed on the Israeli resolutions and may resign as leader. Or not. Listening to her it's hard to tell. This would be an even greater body blow to the party, since it really has no existence beyond her. By the time you read this, the Green Party may well be headless. That's as bad as a head without a party.
Yet the Greens have one important thing going for them at the moment: the NDP. Compare the two: The Green brand is by definition pro-environment, perhaps the greatest cause of our time. The NDP, on the other hand, has as of the moment no brand at all and no new leader on the horizon. If you now expect me to say the obvious, okay, here goes: Isn't there a solution for both camps hidden in plain sight right here?
It's obvious to all that the NDP is in pretty serious trouble. The warm regard in which so many Canadians long held the NDP has pretty clearly evaporated. Once, back in the Ed Broadbent days, the party was a highly regarded institution, even to those who didn't vote for it. Polls showed that the NDP was trusted and admired for one thing above all: being on the side of the ordinary citizen, the little guy, regular Canadians, "people like you," who knew they could count on the NDP.
Of course the NDP needed policies that credibly reflected "people like you." Symbolized frequently by Tommy Douglas and medicare, the NDP usually delivered. Is the Leap Manifesto, perhaps in some modified form, today's equivalent? If not, what is? Does the past still have useful lessons for today's PTSD-afflicted party?
And whatever happened to Leap anyway?
After Broadbent, the federal party hit the doldrums for several years, re-emerging only with Jack Layton in the new millennium. Being on the side of "people like you" hadn't helped in the slightest until Jack restored the party to modest strength, based both on old truths and personal appeal. Finally, at the very end of his fourth campaign, he personally caught fire in Quebec and went on to make history. Suddenly, the party became a serious contender for government.
Then, with Jack gone far too soon, came the ill-conceived 2015 NDP campaign fought with balanced budgets – exactly the policy of the 1 per cent. Trust in the NDP largely collapsed, surging in substantial part to the canny Liberals.
And wouldn't you know it, the Green Party's platform also advocates a balanced budget. This strengthens the argument of those who argue the Greens are really just a conservative party with an environmental hobby.
Can trust in the NDP be rekindled? Is there some potential leader waiting in the wings who can reignite Canadians' faith in the party and articulate the policies to legitimize such confidence? A laser-like focus on global warning plus inequality seems a good beginning.
Say, didn't I hear that Elizabeth May knows something about climate change, among other public policies? And wasn't she a fine MP, worthy of being called a parliamentarian? And isn't she a leader in search of a party?
Well, there's the rub. Maybe not. She's been busy these past weeks bad-mouthing the role of leader as "a thankless task devoid of any fun." But surely you can't judge by leading just one party. Try another, what can you lose? It sure sounds as if there's a match made in heaven looming here.
So why is no one on either side proposing?