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Quebec City is well served by its rooftop revolving hotel restaurant, otherwise a relic of 1970s architectural gimmickery. Brian Topp was indifferent about the plate in front of him as he spoke with a mixture of awe and bitterness about the NDP's fortunes in not just Quebec but Central Canada. He looked out the window. We were facing the mouth of the St. Lawrence, with the National Assembly coming into view.
It was the NDP's 2006 annual policy convention, taking place in Quebec City, hostile ground for the NDP, and chosen by Jack Layton for that reason. From the time he took the leadership of an NDP by then in its 74th year, Layton was determined to make an party breakthrough in his native province.
"They'll never take us seriously until we we make big progress in Quebec," Layton had told me some years earlier, when I commiserated with him about the studied indifference of media bigfoots like Chantal Hebert and Jeffery Simpson toward Layton and his party.
Which you really had to wonder about. My problem with Layton was that he stood for too many things. He wasn't focused. An anti-poverty activist, a gay rights advocate, a champion of affordable housing, a scold about the vulnerability of Central Canadian manufacturing jobs for lack of an industrial policy worthy of the name, an early opponent of our Afghan combat mission, and of society's indfferent regard for spousal abuse, successful ultimately in ramping up the installation of street and parking garage lighting in the city's darkest corners.
But man, he was prescient. Eventually supreme courts in three provinces struck down discrimination against gay marriage as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Chretien made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Those vulnerable manufacturing jobs did in fact disappear - about 200,000 of them in Ontario alone - a decade after Layton first sounded the alarm. Police responding to "domestics" no longer take anyone's word for it that a woman covered with bruises fell down the stairs - so even she says, fearing the loss of income the arrest of her partner would mean - and lay charges anyway, mindful of a Layton-founded White Ribbon campaign that raised awareness about that most common of scourges. And the Afghan mission John Manley talked Chretien into hastily launching to make nice with Bush after staying clear of the Iraq fiasco has turned out to be a cruel fiasco, costing more than 100 Canadian soldiers' lives and far more Afghan civilian lives without achieving anything noble - the fate of every outside power to ever attempt occupying that congeries of feuding warlords and prodigious poppy fields that is a country in name only.
Turned out, on May 2, that standing for all those things paid off as so many Canadians felt they had a stake in what Layton was on about. That same day, the Grits' learned a painful lesson about appearing not to stand for anything.
Layton had pretty much given up on the Star's Hebert, whom he regarded as too much a Quebec nationalist to look favorably on national political leaders not resident in Quebec. Layton had of course long since decamped from his ex-urban Montreal childhood home of Hudson, Que. to Toronto, becoming so immersed in Hogtown's politics - to the point of running unsuccessfully for mayor - that a Layton-led NDP did indeed seem an unlikely representative of Quebeckers in Parliament. As the party had been since its inception.
In my one meeting with Jack after the historic May 2 triumph of no less than 59 Quebec seats, and 103 seats in total - "the greatest home run in Canadian political history," one of my Tory neighbors and friends readily concedes - Layton told me "I finally convinced them I'm from Quebec. It took years and years for that to get through, that I am one of them. And then we won."
That milestone was five years off when Topp pondered the mystery of Quebec. And for that matter, Ontario, where the socialist party held just a smattering of seats, and only three in the GTA - including that of the party leader and that of his wife, Olivia Chow.
"In the West, we don't have horns and a tail," Topp was saying, still watching the skyline as the sun finally set. Topp had worked seven years as deputy chief of staff to Roy Romanow when Romanow was NDP premier of Saskatchewan, birthplace of Medicare, from 1993 to 2000. "It's a two-party system, for the most part," Topp said by way of explaining how the NDP had routinely formed governments in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the modern era, the NDP always has been the only alternative, always the government-in-waiting when not the government itself.
By the late 2000s, the NDP had formed governments in Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well, proving its viability at the ballot box in half the provinces. Yet never had it come remotely close to governing at the federal level, save for the oh-so-close coalition negotiations that Topp was in the thick of in Novmeber 2008. Ultimately, the Grits chose not to play - no surprise given the traditionally much greater animosity between the socialists and Grits than the NDP and Tories. That year the Grits threw away that chance of returning to power, sealing their fate by marching solo behind Michael Ignatieff, one of the least-well-chosen party leaders in Canadian history. Down the street from the Quebec City Loews Hotel where Topp and I were dining, the 2006 Grits were holding one of the series of leadership debates that would culiminate in another debacle, the elevation of Stephane Dion as their leader.
As we sat there, Topp reminded me of an ace feature writer and friend at the Globe and Mail in the 1980s who habitually waited until about 4 p.m. to sit himself before a computer and turn out 3,000 words of beautifully crafted prose. Those of us with routine news reports to file got cracking on them by 11 a.m. and in some cases were still toiling on them after Arthur filed his majestical pieces by 5:15 p.m. Topp had his leader's keynote speech to draft and then rewrite, perhaps twice, at the instruction of Layton, Chow and two other top strategiests. And here he was toying with dessert, his laptop up and running in his hotel room like a sort of getaway car ready to pounce. But that could wait just a bit longer.
"In the all-important social-justice issues, Quebeckers are far more aligned with the NDP than any party," Topp said. "No one believes us, but we are working this province hard. We absolutely must have Quebec to be viable. It won't be long before we stun everyone by winning it."
With that, Topp pushed back his chair and headed for the elevators to draft one of the best political speeches I've heard - gracious to the national Grits assembled in town, enumerating a half dozen core policy issues without wonkery, slipping in Jack's requisite self-deprecation, and keeping the French parts long enough to be substantive and brief enough to keep the mostly unilingual anglophones in the audience from getting restless. It was a tour de force - a quiet one, not a barn-burner - but perfectly suited to its time and place. And every word of its sounded like Jack.
I'm a competitive fellow. I aim to be the best at whatever I do, no matter how hopeless that goal might be. At about the one-third mark in Layton's address I decided I would not be joining his speechwriting shop, after all. Anything I wrote would fall short of Topp, and sensibily would be passed onto him to fix. And Lord knows he was fast enough to do so, and between strategy sessions at that.
Topp has long been associated with political success, in a way that Bob (Shrummy) Shrum is indelibly associated with failure, holding the record for managing the largest number of botched U.S. presidential campaigns.
The fluently bilingual Montreal native and McGill grad helped get Phil Edmunston, a political novelty item (author of the Lemon-Aid car guides), elected as the NDP's first-ever Quebec MP in 1990, then left Quebec to work with Edmonston in Ottawa. It's been all-good since.
Topp, 51, helped keep Romanow in power after his government was reduced to a minority by striking a coalition with the Liberals. He ran Layton-led NDP campaigns that increased the NDP seat count with each successive election, finding time along the way to assist on the 2003 Toronto mayoralty campaign that first brought David Miller to office. His sure touch already has been recruited by Adrian Dix, who signed Topp to manage the B.C. NDP's campaign this fall.
Topp's day job all this time has been in labor, with the Credit Union Central Canada and then longtime executive director of ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists).
He is, I think, the obvious best choice to next lead the NDP.
As noted frequently in the succession speculation since Layton's death, Topp has always worked behind the scenes. But few Canadians knew of Layton,either, when he became NDP leader, and he now is among the most beloved figures in our history. True, Topp would be a second Torontonian in a row to take the leadership. But his Western credentials are substantial, as are his Quebec roots and principal role in the Quebec breakthrough May 2. And Topp is a moderate. He's passionate about social justice but in a way calculated not to scare the children.
Thomas Mulcair can take the lion's share of credit for the Quebec inroads. But he is not ready for prime time, having a volcanic temper and a proclivity for gaffes. Neither Olivia Chow nor deputy leader Libby Davies, currently mooted as successors, is bilingual.
Earlier this year, the NDP by acclamation chose Topp as party president. They should, and I think will, give him the nod in the upcoming leadership race. He doesn't have a seat, but then neither did Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien or Layton himself when they became party leaders. And, sadly, a seat has just opened up in Toronto-Danforth.
What most intrigues me about a Topp leadership is his coalition-building experience. He's right that our traditional three-party system (excluding the Bloc and Greens) has effectively kept the NDP from power federally. Topp was sufficiently engaged in the 2008 gambit of forging a coalition with the Grits to write an illuminating book on the episode, How We Almost Gave The Tories The Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition.
At 103 seats, assuming the now vacant Toronto-Danforth remains safe for the party, the NDP remains far distant from power - 52 seats shy of a majority, to be precise. Only once has the CCF/NDP won more than that many seats or more, last May. Indeed, 52 seats is close to the high-water mark for the Bloc when it owned Quebec. As for the Grits, rebuilding the party - which has lost seats in each of the past three elections - from their current 34 ridings will be quite a chore. "Strategic voters" intent on ousting the Tories now will likely vote NDP, given its relative proximity to power compared with the Liberals.
A merger of the parties makes for 137 seats, just 18 ridings short of forming a majority government. That would require, say, a pickup of only 7 new seats in each of the West and Ontario, 2 in Quebec and 2 in Atlantic Canada. Very doable.
And it's not like the Grits aren't tempted. Interim leader Bob Rae's immediate reaction to the epic May 2 Liberal collapse was to speculate about a merger. Jean Chretien and erstwhile leadership candidate Denis Coderre have warmly embraced a combo. The hard reality for Grits, as Warren Kinsella noted during the "orange surge" prior to the balloting, is that the NDP might no longer feel the need for taking in the Grits.
But progressives need a merger. So does the country, now governed by a party that commanded just 40% popular approval May 2, the majority 60% of Canadians having opted for progressive parties. It was Layton's over-arching ambition, as he told me more than once, to remove the Grits from the political scene, by merger if possible, by crushing them at the polls if necessary. That task has been largely accomplished, Canada's former Natural Governing Party having been reduced to less than three dozen seats - an historic low.
Whatever it is the Grits have been selling these past few elections, Canadians have not been buying. That was most powerfully clear May 2 when Bloc defectors shifted - en masse, as Quebeckers are wont to do - not back to the Grits, as in most elections, or the Tories, as in 1984 and 1988, but to the unknown, untested, even alien NDP. That's how strong the NDP appeal has become in Quebec, and how irrelevant the Liberals are regarded there.
Canada is a progressive nation. Its instincts are civility, mutual accommodation and the well-being of the entire Canadian community. The Tory strategy, infected by Karl Rove's playbook, is a narrow, focused appeal to selective groups in the country. In no civilized nation would a Kelowna Accord that finally came close to justice for aboriginal peoples be scrapped by an incoming government on ideological whim. But then, Canada's First Nations are not part of Harper's Canada. In no civilized community would majority opinion stand for libertarian fear of privacy violation destroy the census and Statscan's reputation as one of the best statistics-gathering agencies in the world. Are we to be ruled by libertarians? Canadians in the majority say no. They aren't buying what the Tories are selling, either.
"Why did we ever have the audacity to hope?" a friend wrote me recently, on the fall in favor of Barack Obama. I could only respond that without the audacity to hope the Jews would not have found sanctuary in the Promised Land, the Wright brothers and Banting and Best would have forsaken their experiments, and Canada would not exist. I do have the audacity to hope that Canadians will have a clear choice between reactionary and progressive governance. Between governance afraid of its own shadow, and bold, persistent experimentation to create the world's most caring society.
The most expeditious route to a more caring society is a federal NDP government, and the best prospect of that is an NDP led by Brian Topp.
At least, that's how I'll be voting.
Journalists at credible news organizations are discouraged from or forbidden to take political party membership, and certainly cannot be active in political organizations. There are countless good reasons for that. And so I've abided that rule. But I am a card-carrying NDPer, to my chagrin.
Jack Layton might have been aware of that rule when he nonetheless sold me a party membership in an east-end Toronto washroom several years ago. I was, shall we say, preoccupied. And this man larger than life turned on me, having strategically done his business faster than I, and pushed a membership card into my right arm. "David, we can't go on meeting like this unless we're on the same team." I protested of course, as best I could, craning my neck to talk. Jack just kept talking over me until I signed the damned card mostly in order to get out of the washroom.
"Uh, David," I heard Layton calling as I strode back to our pool table, "that'll be ten dollars. These aren't free, you know." Suddenly I remembered Jack's unofficial career as an auctioneer without equal, raising probably more than million dollars for the NDP over the years. I'd seen him in action, in church halls and banquet rooms above dim sum emporia, unloading the most hideous apparel and furniture onto party donors of all walks of life. What made me think I'd know Jack for 20-odd years without him someday making an impression on my wallet?
Election signs and TV spots aren't free either, I know.
But still, talk about audacity.
The Toronto skyline - the late Jack Layton's skyline tonight - with the CN Tower lit in NDP orange. After lying in state at Parliament earlier this week, and sent off by a 15-gun salute and release of doves, Layton returned home Thursday where mourners could pay their respects at the City Hall where Layton long served. His funeral was held today at the Roy Thomson concert hall. (Toronto Star photo)
Do not stand at my grave and weep -
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
In June, I faulted Michael Lewis - to a fault - for shortcomings in bestselling Lewis tomes I felt over-rated. I won't revisit that opinion here. The key thing is that since 2009 Lewis has published four brilliant articles in Vanity Fair on the global debt crisis as it affects Europe. They are the kind of long-form journalism that the MSM increasingly shuns in favor of superficial "analysis" and junk food. (VF itself is one of the worst offenders). It's the kind of in-depth journalism with an eye for telling detail that requires months to research and a mastery of organization to present cogently - skills Lewis has in rare abundance.
Clockwise from upper left: A "capitalist" is hung in effigy in Reykjavik; violent demonstrations in Athens; protests against harsh government austerity measures in London; an anti-austerity protest in Madrid that attracted 100,000 demonstrators; one of the abandoned subdivisions that mar the post-housing-boom Irish countryside; German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a divine-intervention-seeking pose, with the flags of Germany and the nascent eurozone, which her nation alone can rescue. (Reuters, Getty Images)
I write this mainly to assert that you can't understand the almost unthinkable, rapid decline into utter dysfunctionality of the eurozone, which as you know takes in most of Europe (Britain conspicuously excepted) without reading Lewis' on the ground reporting.
It's plain from Lewis' latest report, on Germany, that the architects of the 12-year-old eurozone committed to this mostly noble project of creating the world's largest economy (about $16 trillion in GDP to America's $14 trillion or so) without anticipating worst-case scenarios - among them, that a member nation of the new currency union might someday face default, and then what?
In his current Germany piece, as in earlier reports on Iceland, Greece and Ireland, only by talking with everyday folks as well as a few of the usual suspects in charge whom the MSM also has canvassed has Lewis been able to, for instance, explain the Germans' gullibility in lending to every kind of future deadbeat globally, despite their world-class prudence at home. To describe an Irish government's insanity in making good on Irish bank losses - forcing everyday Irish to pay for the mistakes of feckless, greedhead capitalists - in a manner likely to set back Irish economic prospects for a generation. To chronicle Iceland's opposite approach, a populist groundswell lethal to the government, insisting that British and other punters seduced by Iceland's now defunct banks should pay for their cupidity rather than be made good by Icelanders. And to assay the Greeks' quite stunning insistence on a free lunch - lavish public services coexisting with a the national sport of tax evasion (by no means limited to weathy loophole exploiters).
Lewis' piece on Germany reads like the kind of travelogue Mark Twain made famous with Innocents Abroad, as do Lewis's sojourns in the other eurozone hotspots. Here Lewis asserts credibly that Germany now effectively "owns Europe." Berlin alone has the resources to bail out the deadbeats. And the quandary for Berlin is that it must do so, given that the balance sheets of German banks - most of them co-ops or outright state-owned - are weighed down with the largest share of dubious euro-denominated debt by far of any eurozone member.
But German popular resentment toward Greek spendthrifts and Germany's own leadership class, struggling to keep the eurozone intact, might scupper the rescue mission. And that might not be such a bad thing. Sorry to be patronizing, but the likes of Greece, which lied about its books to earn its eurozone membership, don't belong at the adults' table in a two-tier eurozone that might emerge from this historic debacle.
Germans are also remarkably scatalogical. Lewis might be stretching a point to see a connection between the pristine conditions Germans insist upon at home while craving a roll in the mud elsewhere. But the phenomenon makes an memorable impression. So does the sadness and sense of betrayal of the Irish, finally prosperous in the 2000s, but only briefly, after more than a century of relative deprivation. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said of his ancestral heritage, the whole point of being Irish is knowing your heart will be broken.
I apologize to Michael Lewis for not taking into account the remarkable insights he has brought to this topic of preoccupying importance when I wrote of his work earlier. And I urge you to immerse yourself in these stories. They go far beyond numbers to the enduring character of people with whom we share the planet:
It's the Economy, Dummkopf!", VF, Septmber 2011 (Germany)
"When Irish Eyes Are Crying," VF, March 2011
"Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds," VF, October 2010
"Wall Street on the Tundra," VF, April 2009 (Iceland)
Statistical lore for everyday living.
Percentage of people who say they have toxic friends whom they tolerate: 80
Number of Americans who died from terrorist acts last year: 15
From dog bites: 34
Number of years since Michele Bachmann, Oral Roberts University law graduate, said "What people recognize is that there’s a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward” that the Soviet Union ceased to exist: 20
Number of weeks into his presidential campaign before Rick Perry disavowed his nine-month-old book Fed Up!: 1
Obama approval rating (Gallup, Rasmussen, CNN): 42% - 45%
GOP approval rating, according to a CNN poll taken Aug. 5-7 after the debt-ceiling fiasco: 33%
At its most recent high-water mark, in September 2008: 48%
Average ratio by which Americans favor higher taxes on the affluent to restore fiscal health and close the gap between rich and poor, in 19 polls taken this year and compiled by Reagan administration veteran Bruce Bartlett: 2 to 1
Number of Hiroshimas that radioactive caesium leaks from the crippled Fukushima reactor equal: 168
Sum that honest Japanese searching through the post-earthquake rubble have found and turned in to rightful owners: $78 million
Percentage increase in Procter & Gamble's sales last year: 5
In CEO Bob McDonald's pay of $16.2 million for overseeing the Pampers and Tide maker: 23
Proceeds from Apple cofounder Ron Wayne's sale of a 10% stake in the firm in 1976: $800
Value of that stake today: $35.6 billion
Warren Buffett's one-day paper profit Thursday on his recent Bank of America investment: $357 million
Percentage of African American women who say they avoid exercise fearing it will ruin their hairdos: 33
Number of people who attended the flash mob at a suburban Cleveland mall called by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, for which he was arrested on disorderly conduct charges - including MGK himself: 3
Ben Bernanke committed a no-no yesterday at the annual central bankers' summit at Jackson Hole, Wy., akin to Barack Obama's dressing down of the Supreme Court's odious decision allowing still more corporate money in politics during his SOTU last year. One oughtn't be so blunt, sayeth the punditocracy the morning after. Well, they can go douse themselves while I savor this Bernanke quote taking the Tea Party-influenced debt-ceiling fiasco makers to the woodshed:
Finally, and perhaps most challenging, the country would be well served by a better process for making fiscal decisions. The negotiations that took place over the summer disrupted financial markets and probably the economy as well, and similar events in the future could, over time, seriously jeopardize the willingness of investors around the world to hold U.S. financial assets or to make direct investments in job-creating U.S. businesses.
Oh, oh, oh, you mean threatening to default for the first time in history is, like - who cares? World humiliation, that's what they said about Iraq. You're a one-note Benny, and I don't care if Bush appointed you, you're Obama's baby now - he reappointed you, and now I see why. How's that "Winning the Future" thing workin' for ya? You wanna run a central bank, try Tanzania. It's second door on the left, then 3,800 miles straight head. Take a life jacket, you balding freedom-hater. And read your constitution, you commie bearded ape. We have the right to free speech and our elected doorknobs can vote any way they please even if it means Hurricane Irene wipes out the Upper East Side and Susan Sarandan hooks up with Charles Koc-
Uh, sorry, Rush was at the keyboard there for a minute. Didn't know he could type.
If you want a hilarious NSFW version of Bernanke's upbraiding, go here.
Ford Motor launched the first Edsel 54 years ago yesterday. Seems you can't go near this topic without a dispute. The ill-fated Edsel might be the JFK assassination of the auto trade, rife with conspiracy theories and fierce arguments about the character of both the car (1958-1960) and Edsel Bryant Ford (1893-1943, the man for whom it was named.
The name is of course synonomous with failure, though it sold briskly in its first year until the 1958 recession set in. That was the year my dad, a Toronto printer, was laid off seven times. I've always had a curious fondness for the car, invariably ridiculed because of its unusual grille and the model's tepid sales despite a then-unprecedented amount of pre-design consumer research. Even the 6,000 suggested names for the vehicle seem indicative of overweening pride in Dearborn, particularly given that these names were ultimately swept aside so that the name of a Ford family member could be attached to it.
The Globe's Peter Cheney adds to the confusion with an Edsel "tribute" Friday asserting that the iconic failure "showed just how far the mighty Ford Motor Co. had strayed from the unerring instincts of its founder." (Alas, I can't link to the brief article since the Globe hasn't posted it.)
Actually, Henry Ford is one of the most over-rated of industrial titans. A fair number of Americans imagine the Michigan farmboy invented cars. (That would be, if anyone, Gotlieb Daimler and Karl Benz three decades earlier). Or at least the assembly line. In fact, assembly lines were commonplace when Ford Motor was born, and it wasn't Henry but the ace industrial engineers he recruited who devised what was indisputably the most robust assembly line of its time.
As for Henry's "unerring instinct," the founder nearly killed his company in the cradle, waiting an unconscionable 18 years before reacting to public and Ford family pressure to replace his beloved Model T with the winsome Model A (1927-1931), which, like the Edsel, had the misfortune of appearing in time for an economic downturn. It was a staggering success, just the same, selling more than four million units in just four years' production at nine plants, including Windsor, Ont. But by that point, GM, with its wider range of power, convenience, styling and color options, had taken a market-share lead over Ford that it would never surrender.
Henry's unerring instinct prompted him to shun electric starters and other conveniences he deemed frivilous but for which the market was clamoring, opening the door to rivals. Henry published an anti-Semitic newspaper with few equals in odiousness. He earned ridicule for a feckless peace mission to Europe in a failed bid to prevent the outbreak of World War I hostilities. Henry insisted that gravely ill son Edsel be fed unpasteurized goat milk, which only accelerated Edsel's death of stomach cancer.
Founder Ford also had to be threatened by FDR with the nationalization of his firm following Pearl Harbor, the stubborn cuss having initially refused to convert to war production. Henry was given to waiting for public occasions to inflict his loud, withering criticisms on Edsel. Th(In fairness, GM wasn't fast off the mark, either, eager to cash in on a long-awaited prosperity after the Depression.)
There's a book for someone to write on the curious ailment of the founder-father whose son must take over the business, and must also be subjected to constant, brutal second-guessing from dad, usually in front of non-family executives. That was the fate also of Forrest Mars Jr. at the M&M's and Snickers maker, and of Thomas Watson Jr. at IBM.
Canvassing for names might have been silly, but honoring Edsel, shown right, was not. It was Edsel, as president under his father's often cruel supervision, who greatly expanded Ford Motor's overseas presence, launched what then was a successful Mercury division to match GM's Pontiac and Chevrolet and Chrysler's Plymouth brands, and counted the Model A, the Mercury Zepher and the Lincoln Continental among his triumphs.
Mostly, though, Edsel was a giant as a philanthropist and enjoyed the widespread affection of Ford Motor employees. Just 14 years after Edsel's tragically early death at 49 in 1943, it was natural that top Ford executives would hold out for honoring a man they had loved working with. It's for them I feel badly when thoughts turn to this car, so well-intentioned (affordable luxury for consumers, a proud flagship meant to celebrate the family firm's greatest leader) but so poorly executed in everything from timing to reading consumer preferences to rushing the glitch-prone vehicle onto showroom lots. A sad irony is that if Edsel had lived, any "Edsel" with which he was involved would most likely have been a commercial and engineering success.
I drafted this note to my MP, Peggy Nash, about three weeks ago, but thought better of sending it at such a fraught time. My riding is blessed with one of the most competent MPs in the Commons, and I came away from lunch with Peggy early this month in a pragmatic and hopeful mood. It was nonetheless overshadowed by Jack Layton's struggle with cancer. I was not among those who believed Jack would return to Parliament, and thought the NDP needed now to prepare now for a future without him. That's the spirit in which this note was written August 7:
It’s time to think about a party without Jack. He will need a long period of convalescence. And I doubt his doctors will condone a return to leadership, not least because the rigours of the past campaign contributed to the worsening in his condition.
Jack’s stepping aside does not diminish by one iota what the party has accomplished under Jack’s leadership. If it did, than nothing was accomplished in the last election and the many years of preparation that preceded it. And 103 seats proves that’s not true.
I have to disagree that it’s unusual for leaders to falter. Actually, this happens all the time. To Churchill in 1945, to an ousted Thatcher in 1990, to Olaf Palme’s party when the Swedish leader was assassinated, to Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. on the four occasions when their leaders were killed, to the U.S. civil rights movement after the tragedy in Memphis in 1968...
What matters is how a party or movement reacts to the setback.
In fact, I’d say we’ve not been well served by the tradition of the leader on horseback who is expected single-handedly to vanquish threats and lead us to prosperity. Martin Luther King told his flock that "I have seen the promised land" but also that "I may not get there with you." King's vision is being realized with greater strength every day, with women and people of color long excluded from power now running Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. itself. Such is the legacy of inspirational leaders on the side of the angels; often their ideas and ideals are made manifest only after their passing.
In the modern Canada, our own fixation with the Leader dates from Trudeau, and has continued with Chretien and Harper. This is the phenomenon of “the single combat warrior,” as Tom Wolfe famously described Americans’ love of lone, omnipotent heroes. Such figures often have been overbearing, control-obsessed, isolated, and out of touch with colleagues and other fellow Canadians.
Canada and the NDP can make history by pioneering a new type of leadership better able to advance the social progress of our country. Team leadership best suits the variety and complexity of the challenges facing our nation, and coincidentally of a party caucus largely populated with newcomers to political life. With or without Jack, a way would have to be found to engage the newcomers in fulfilling work, in a sense of mission, in a national project. That project is to transform this most nearly perfect country into the world's most advanced “caring society.”
“Team leadership” contrasts with the one-man rule so commonplace in the world. It merely makes official the fact that team efforts account for everything from the Regina Manifesto to Medicare (implemented by a minority government) to the Maple Leaf (minority NDP MPs helped broker the compromise that made a new flag possible) to patriating our Constitution and conceiving the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It puts goals ahead of personalities, and achievement ahead of pettiness and resentments. The past several years of Grit upheaval are indicative of how self-destructive it can be to invest the usual great hopes in a sole leader who is expected to possess the healing powers to bring about internal party harmony and ballot-box triumph.
Practically, I would begin soon, in dividing caucus into 12 policy teams of eight or nine MPs each, with shadow ministers assigned to each team. Using the greater research resources that come with Official Opposition status, the policy teams would tackle Canada’s most stubborn challenges – job creation, a renaissance in education and health care, climate change and energy conservation, the global disgrace of abysmal living conditions in too many of our aboriginal communities, and a more effective leadership role for Canada on the world stage in humanitarianism and peaceful dispute resolution. In contrast with our American friends, we have a uniquely multi-talented armed forces competent in peacekeeping - which the U.S. traditionally has shunned - as well as civil defense and external combat capabilities.
Another group of five MPs would constitute a new leadership team, working with the Interim Leader and traditional shadow ministers. Parties too often are hobbled by disputes and simmering resentment between the Leader's office and caucus. A leadership team, constantly assessing the work of the policy teams to which all members of caucus belong, would more tightly bond caucus with the Leader and the non-elected officials toiling in his or her office. It also would demonstrate wisdom and energy across several party leaders commanding the attention of Canadians, each exhibiting outstanding competence. In time, there will be a traditional leadership race.
These three phases of restructuring the party - policy teams, a leadership team, and the selection of a new Leader - will each garner the media attention required to show Canadians that, absent Jack, the party is not wandering aimlessly, but instead has no less a sense of national purpose than it showed in the latest campaign. That the NDP is devising a streamlined system for generating solutions to Canada’s most pressing issues and proposing how they can be practically and promptly implemented.
A hopeful country will want to know, and soon, about the NDP’s future, and the future the NDP sees for Canada. That’s why this structure needs to be put in place now, and why the teamwork needs to begin now. Canadians have given themselves an historic opportunity by elevating the NDP into a social-justice party that is viable as a governing party. An NDP that acts like a governing party – a party of solutions, cohesion and disciplined energy – will be embraced by voters when the current government wears out its welcome (which governing parties tend to do, no matter how initially popular, after 10 years or so, namely 2015).
The proposed caucus teams are all about developing solutions to the challenges the country faces, from narrowing the income gap and eradicating child poverty to promoting genuine reforms to world financial governance. Canada is a problem-solving nation, first devising the means of internal governance, transportation, communication and prosperity across the northern half of North America, then spearheading the resolution of the Suez Crisis and the fight against apartheid, and championing a new International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Land Mines Treaty. The NDP’s role is to highlight and refine that capacity for innovation, at home and abroad.
The skills and effort of every backbencher will be called on in this effort, and each MP will derive fulfilment from it. The party will be in a constant state of policy development. This often is the weak link in governing and opposition parties alike, a preoccupation with tactics over policy - and Jack's leadership was not immune to that syndrome. Since to govern is to choose, a party must be an incubator of ideas, so that promising options from which to choose are in ample supply. A party with a policy "factory" is able to anticipate challenges to the country rather than merely reacting to them, having drawn upon breakthroughs in every realm in every part of the world.
As such, the NDP will nurture leadership talent within its parliamentary ranks, and earn its status as a government in waiting. And when given the chance by Canadians to lead this great nation, the NDP will be prepared for the task with an abundance of progressive ideas, competence, and compassion that the country has never before seen in a new government.
The Obama foreign policy doctrine:
4. Osama bin Laden, dead, finally. U.S. exit strategy has SEALS out of Abbottabad hours after their arrival.
Euphoric crowds in Green Square, main gathering point in Benghazi,second-largest Libyan city. The sign bears the photos of America's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice; British PM David Cameron; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; and Barack Obama. It read: "God Bless You All. Thanks For All." (AP)
Gosh, if Ronald Reagan, liberator of Grenada, were author of those triumphs he'd be carried to work each day in a sedan chair along a path of rose petals. With Obama, by contrast, larger, low-cost triumphs are one-day news stories highlighting GOP refusal to credit the president - indeed, to scorn him for not acting impulsively enough.
Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress:
Much as with the killing of Bin Laden, the GOP candidates seem to be unwilling to give even a modicum of congratulations to their political opponent, even on a matter of national security that seemingly every politician in the U.S. should support. Instead, Romney and others are already pivoting to demanding the extradition of the Lockerbie bomber, which would appear to be a means to put Obama back on the defensive when he should riding high, even it means threatening Libya’s fragile transitional regime with outside pressure.
E.J. Dionne in WaPo:
You have to ask: If unemployment were at 6 percent, would President Obama be getting pummeled for not having us back to full employment already?
The question comes to mind in the wake of the Libyan rebels’ successes against Moammar Gaddafi. It’s remarkable how reluctant Obama’s opponents are to acknowledge that despite all the predictions that his policy of limited engagement could never work, it actually did.
Let it be said upfront that the rout of Gaddafi was engineered not by foreign powers but by a brave rebellion organized in Libya by its people.
But that is the point. The United States has no troops in Libya, which means our men and women in uniform do not find themselves at the center of — or responsible for — what will inevitably be a messy and possibly dangerous aftermath. Our forces did not suffer a single casualty. The military action by the West that was crucial to the rebels was a genuine coalition effort led by Britain and France. This was not a made-by-America revolution, and both we and the Middle East are better for that.
What NATO and its allies did do, as Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller reported in The Post, was to help the rebels “mount an aggressive ‘pincer’ strategy in recent weeks, providing intelligence, advice and stepped-up airstrikes that helped push Moammar Gaddafi’s forces toward collapse in Tripoli.”
Sounds like a successful policy to me.
Yet no good Obama deed goes unpunished. In the midst of the bracing news, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a statement saying, well, too bad that Obama got it wrong.
It does seem odd that a leader confronted with Obama's brace of challenges would find the goalposts moved with each success. Right and left alike agree that Obama's jobs policy has been late and lame, though in fact it began very early with the unprecedented $800-billion stimulus and has kept unemployment from rocketing to 20%, where it otherwise would be after the most devastating economic downturn in the lives of most Americans. It's also a devastating financial recession, relatively rare compared with industrial ones, which has spread its tentacles into every crevice of the economy. But a jobless rate of 9.1% is a failure, as if returning to the pre-recession 4.7% was a miracle any sack of hammers could have attained by now.
On the latest example, of Libya, the goalposts again have been moved. Helping push Gadhafi from power with minimal expense of U.S. blood and treasure isn't enough: Post-Gadhafi Libya must be transformed into some kind of Utopia for Obama's foreign-policy approach to have succeeded.
Here's WaPo "Right Turn" columnist Jennifer Rubin:
The real test of Obama’s Libya operation will be how events play out after Qaddafi is gone. If post-Qaddafi Libya quickly transitions to a stable, representative political order, then the messiness of the last five months will be forgiven and forgotten. If the Obama team’s planning for post-Qaddafi Libya is up to the task, that will go a long way to vindicating their approach. But as the George W. Bush administration ruefully knows, as hard as it is to topple a dictator, the really hard part is what comes after.
Well no, that's not the test at all. The "test" has come and gone, and the U.S. passed with flying colors. The objective was to fall in with Britain and France, noisy in calling early for a blunt military intervention, only when the genocide of about 700,000 civilians in Benghazi seemed perhaps 48 hours distant. It was to degrade Gadhafi's forces sufficient that the tyrant could not commit mass murder of his own people. It never was and certainly isn't the NATO mission to engage in nation-building in Libya. The mission truly is accomplished, and any more "investment" would be promptly - and correctly - questioned as "mission creep." The spectre Rubin raises is a red herring since the U.S. has zero intention of refashioning post-Gadhafi Libya, having abided the wishes of its civilians to limit Western assistance to air strikes and allow the Libyan rebels to claim the ground victory as wholly their own. If Libya implodes and a decade of chaos lies ahead, that's an issue for Libyans, whose sour regard for outside "help" is akin to that of Afghans and Iraqis. And would be of Texans and Ontarians humiliated and resentful at meddling by outsiders, no matter how well-intentioned the West persuades itself its presence in those countries is. Afgans plainly detest the American, Canadian and other foreign nationals from the 39 other troop-contributing nations in the ISAF mission there. America's primary humanitarian efforts should be concentrated in East St. Louis, South Central L.A., Detroit's 8 Mile and the restoration, sometime this century one hopes, of New Orleans. How a nation whose principal city remains blemished by a massive open gravesite in its financial district a decade after 9/11 can imagine itself competently rearranging the complex cultures of other nations is a conceit almost beyond fathoming, a chimera whose pursuit conflicts with America's best interest.
I'm at odds with administration policy on Afghanistan, as readers know. I'll stick with my guess that the Obama troop ramp-up tells the Taliban that the West might never extinguish you, since that would mean occupying Pakistan (!) But then, you'll never have your country back as long as we're here. So let's split the difference. We'll go but on our terms - namely, that we'll oust you from Kabul again at the first sign of terrorist harboring, as quickly as we routed you in late 2001. In the meantime, you can return to compete with the Afghan warlords/drug lords for control of your country, and good luck with that.
David Olive is a business and current affairs columnist at the Star, which he joined in 2001 after stints at the Globe and Mail, National Post and Financial Post.
"If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion."
- George Bernard Shaw