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New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 16, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 16, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Lawrence Martin

On many vital issues, the NDP have been on the mark Add to ...

What party is getting it right? Not on the political scoreboard, which is the journalistic obsession, but on the criteria that really count - policies that affect the country.

On that note, the question of track record, has anyone been looking at the NDP's performance? There have been several developments in the past week alone that bring the third party to mind.

First was the government's decision to amend the employment insurance system. The New Democrats were highly instrumental in that call, a decision that, as a healthy byproduct, prevented the onset of an unwanted election. In aligning with the Conservatives on the issue, they also turned the coalition debate and all its attendant paranoia on its ear.

No credit came their way. Nothing new here. In big media precincts, the knees started jerking, as they often do when the left rears its unshapely head, and the NDP move was denounced as a politically motivated act of desperation. Out came the machine guns. Bang! Bang! Down went the guys in orange ties.

But be that as it may. It's well known that the Dippers have no media proprietors in their philosophical corner. It's well known that counterculture journalism is a bygone thing. There was obviously political calculation in what the party did. But on what matters, the EI issue, a policy advance was made.

The past week was also notable with regard to Afghanistan. The war has reached such a point of deterioration that even the generals are no longer issuing the types of public-relations pronouncements that have sucked in so many for so long, in so many wars. Even the military brass are down on the war's prospects. And, since we're on the subject of track record, we should ask which party was the most skeptical about this war from the outset. Which was the party that said the war couldn't be won militarily, that pushed for negotiations and that, for its efforts, had its leader denounced as Taliban Jack?

The past week saw Barack Obama's cancellation of the missile defence system for Eastern Europe. Canada's most vocal opponent of missile defence, going back a long way, has been the NDP. The idea of putting up a system that might not work and that alienated Russia, in places like Poland, was at best bewildering. One had to presuppose (A) that Iran would be allowed to get nuclear weapons, (B) that Iran would risk retaliatory annihilation in deploying them and (C) that the Iranians would choose Krakow as a target.

The past week saw the arrival of a film sardonically titled Capitalism: A Love Story. The New Democrats are not as far out there as Michael Moore, but they are the party that took the strongest stance against the excesses of capitalism, excesses that torpedoed the world economy. They warned against the dangers of deregulation. They pressed the government on the need for an auto sector strategy, on a backup plan for pensions. They led the charge in demanding billions in stimulus spending.

The New Democrats have their own long list of ill-advised excesses on economic policy and other aspects of their platform, but there are times when the party's activism is in order.

They have been the most vocal opponents of foreign takeovers of Canadian companies. That got them labelled as antediluvian nationalists. But as our crown jewels continue to be sold off, you don't hear that criticism as much. Even some Conservatives are now wondering if the hollowing-out trend has gone too far.

The Dippers were early environmental warriors. Their warnings on income inequality - check the ugly stats on the current gap between rich and poor - have turned out to be highly credible. On the native peoples file, they were the ones who pressed the government to make the emotional residential schools apology.

Politically, the New Democrats are not getting much traction. It's tough when you have no control of the airwaves. They are still stereotyped by an image tethered to decades past. But they can take comfort in knowing that on many of the vital issues, they've been on the mark. Never mind the political score. On what really matters, vindication has come their way.

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