Friday night at a church hall in Broadview-Greenwood, NDP heartland. Marilyn Churley is celebrating 10 years in provincial politics during which she went from city councillor to cabinet minister and, lately, the most effective voice against the Tory poison water record. Not bad for a single mom from Newfoundland.
But this is a room of mixed feelings, of warmth for Churley, memories of NDP glory days and fear for the future. The white-haired Bob Rae -- a ghost from the good times -- expresses what's on everyone's mind.
"It is a difficult moment in the life of the New Democratic Party," he says to a roomful of people whose lukewarm applause is their way of wondering whether he's still loyal to the party he brought to power. But the much-despised Rae appears to have forsaken his own advice -- offered at the height of the uprising against the Harris Tories -- that the NDP and Liberals should join to fight the right. The last thing we need in Ottawa, he says tonight, is "one more person in the (Liberal) red army chorus."
"Being a member of the New Democrat Party," he adds, "is about more than nostalgia. It's (knowing) that good and better days are ahead."
That's a tonic for bottom-of-the-polls NDPers, who are warned day after day that they'll be wiped out in the next election. But it all comes crashing down when party leader Alexa McDonough takes the stage. Underwhelming at the best of times, here she's following a former premier who's the best practising political orator in Canada. "I don't like the polls," she acknowledges, but insists that "Canadians have a deep longing for something other than the minimalist, hide-in-the-weeds Liberal government."
It's not that you would disagree with any of what she says. It's just that there's no there there, no emotional connection, no sincerity. In trying to mainstream the party to make it palatable to skittish voters in her native Nova Scotia, McDonough has lost the edge that voters in Toronto and elsewhere in urban Canada are looking for.
But the party is bigger than McDonough. And even with her at the helm, there's still no better time to vote NDP. As Newfoundland comedian Greg Malone notes at the Churley soiree, it's not the New Democratic Party, it's the only democratic party. Jean Chretien has run the most right-wing Liberal government in living memory. Even the blarney of Chretien sycophant Brian Tobin won't disguise that.
This election shall pass, and so will McDonough. The NDP will, if Canada is lucky, party on.