If Jack Layton wins the ndp leadership,federal politics will gain a ferociously hardworking advocate for most causes worth caring about, and city politics will lose the same. But further, Toronto will lose an experienced councillor who influences important decisions, while federal politics will acquire a very winning leader for a very losing party. For Layton's sake, and for anyone else with a stake in this, we should ask, "Can his leadership really change the NDP? Or does the party just want a new Alexa or Audrey with facial hair?"
The national NDP has been enfeebled by unimaginative leadership, but even if creative and silver-tongued Layton wins, he'll have a tone-deaf party on his hands. For many years, the party has spoken a Babel of tongues in the voices of grievance, demand, special pleading and protest, creating a clamour of the united-against. Can the various subspecies of the NDP abandon their extremists and make an alliance to define the greater goods the majority of people might be united for?
What Canadians appear to want in the next federal election is a Liberal government that is liberal. Sounds like a classic recipe for a Liberal-NDP minority government, doesn't it? And if you let that brew ferment and inhale the fumes, you may glimpse a vision of the NDP forming the government some years down the road under Prime Minister Layton.
There's only one thing wrong with this picture. It is almost impossible for a party ideologically committed to political warfare to win the trust of a plurality of voters. And if it does, to paraphrase Bob Rae, "There is no worse training in the world for becoming (the government) than spending a career in opposition." Layton has learned that lesson in city politics, where opposition alone gets you less than nothing, damaging or destroying your causes. At the city level and in his work with municipal politicians across Canada, he's learned to make alliances to achieve gains.
I would hope that a Layton-led NDP might reinvent itself as a governing rather than a protest party, might challenge us to reimagine our citizenship, might inspire us to put aside our personal and regional agendas to find common ground with our Canadian neighbours. I wish Layton luck and the vision and courage to be a true leader.
Deanne Taylor is a playwright and director of VideoCabaret