Wow, thanks, Wajid. Before we can even recycle the newspapers carrying year-end predictions that the NDP is on its deathbed, Jack Layton's gang suddenly holds the balance of power in Ottawa and has an opportunity to make historic gains in environmental legislation.
Or maybe not.
The fact is, Wajid Khan's probable career-ending decision to cross the floor from the Libs to the Conservatives has added sheen to Layton's "work with the devil" approach to the Tory Clean Air Act.
But this is a white-knuckle ride: can the NDP win enough concessions to stave off the nausea its grassroots are feeling as the party plays constructive critic to the neo-cons?
Layton's party sure has been having a rough go of it. Coming in fourth in the London by-election wasn't a great way to end a year that saw the Harper Conservatives recklessly dare the other parties to call an election.
Then there was the overwhelming coverage of the greening of the Libs under Stéphane Dion and the media honeymoon of Green party leader Elizabeth May. On top of all that, a couple of hoax press releases appearing to have been written by rank-and-file New Democrats critical of Layton's leadership surfaced on the Web.
But by stealth and accident, the NDP leader suddenly finds himself in a similar position to the one he was in the last minority Parliament, when his budget gambit with the Martin Liberals arguably helped him pick up 10 more seats in the 2005 election. Are party strategists assuming this could happen again?
Certainly, many see the bright side of this new moment. "This is great for the NDP," says U of T prof Nelson Wiseman. "This means they aren't a paper tiger." Wiseman says the party has the greatest impact when it holds the balance of power, citing medicare, Petro-Canada and the Paul Martin Liberals' 2005 budget.
"I would argue that the NDP has been far more influential on Canadian politics than the Conservatives," he says. "If you ask Canadians what are the things that are most important to them, they are going to say our social programs."
And perhaps in the future that list of accomplishments will include cutting-edge environmental policies crafted in the hothouse of the minority Parliament of 2007.
Ryerson prof Greg Inwood certainly thinks that's not out of the question. "If Layton can get work done on the environment, it cuts into Dion's green credibility and takes some steam out of Elizabeth May," he says. "While Layton risks being seen as willing to 'sleep with anyone,' he has the luxury of distancing himself from the Conservatives on issues that are anathema to the NDP."
The party is being careful in this sensitive context to position its actions as being in the public interest. "We can actually get something done here. Wouldn't that be amazing?" says NDP MP Olivia Chow of working with the other parties on a rewritten Clean Air Act. "MPs are not just paid to rant and rave. We don't care who steals our ideas as long as we accomplish something."
Chow says she doubts that the other parties have any choice but to pass a strong piece of legislation on the environment. Akaash Maharaj, former Liberal national policy chair, agrees. "Any party that wields the knife [that beheads this legislation] will pay a price with the electorate," he says. "Every party will be held to account."
But there is much talk that Dion would rather kill the enviro legislation than rewrite it, so he can go into the next election as Captain Clean Air. Maharaj himself underscores that other all-too-familiar Liberal reflex: "The ideal position for the Liberals is that we have a Clean Air Act and we are the authors of it," he says.
Still, while Layton tries to strong-arm a viable global warming strategy from reluctant, posturing Tories, outside the NDP's braintrust there is growing discomfort about this communion with neo-cons. "I don't think the Conservatives will ever make a meaningful deal that matters on the environment. If they do, it's only to soften their image for the electorate," says York poli sci prof James Laxer.
Laxer thinks Layton is in a tough position but has a clear choice. "He can prop up Harper and make some short-term gains on the environment, childcare or tax cuts, or he can decide that Harper represents most things that the NDP and the majority of Canadians are against and lead the progressives into an election. I pray to god Jack Layton chooses the latter."
There are, of course, logistical issues at work here, too. Parties' willingness to cooperate on the environment is motivated by the fact that there have been two elections in two years, not to mention, for the Liberals, an expensive leadership contest.
No one has the stomach and only the Tories have the money for more electioneering right now.
Add to this the fact that foot soldiers will be scarce, since Ontario and possibly Quebec are heading to the polls this fall.
So, like talk of the NDP's demise, forecasts of a spring election seem somewhat premature.