Opposition disarray: with enemies like these, who needs friends?

The Leap Manifesto takes the pressure off Trudeau by dividing the NDP

RED DEER, Alta. April 13, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Think of it as the ultimate honeymoon gift to Canada’s fresh Liberal government: disarray in the opposition ranks.

And think of some of that disarray as creating waves for a pair of provincial governments.

Halfway into the first year of their four-year mandate, the federal Liberals can be confident they will not face any serious challenges to their governance for at least the next two years.

The official Opposition Conservatives will be busy on other matters, spending the next year redefining their brand and looking for a leader.

The federal New Democrats are also searching for new focus. They will be fronted for as much as the next two years by a lame duck – Thomas Mulcair – who has less than half the support of the party. During that time, the party will try to redefine its entire mission, its public brand and find a new leader.

But these things do move in cycles.

The Liberal Party spent years in the wilderness (under several leaders) before the arrival of Justin Trudeau at the helm. They subsequently swept the country in the last election.

But during the lost Liberal years, Parliament at least had an effective opposition in the form of the NDP, first led by the late Jack Layton and then by Mulcair.

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From 2011 right up until Trudeau’s surprising victory in October, the NDP could have called itself a government-in-waiting.

Not today. Mulcair is on the way out as a result of the NDP convention in Edmonton last weekend.

Today, no party can say claim to be a government-in-waiting, since that implies readiness to govern, and to do that requires a leader.

And that means not any time soon for the NDP, which is once again a house divided.

I’m old enough to remember the Waffle. The NDP that good old Tommy Douglas built, bringing us universal health care and a national pension plan, was split in the late 1960s by an energetic splinter group that wanted to fast-track Canada into socialist nationalism.

The Waffle pushed a national debate on how Canada should grow into the future. For years after, high school debating clubs would enter contests wrangling over whether Canada should nationalize industries that were controlled by American firms.

The Waffle’s move away from centre-left effectively kept the party far distant from power in Ottawa, although local conditions and popular leaders would gain them provincial governments – as in Saskatchewan and B.C. historically and in Alberta and Manitoba today.

But those kinds of outcomes will be a distant memory if the Leap Manifesto gains momentum.

Prophets always seem to come from the wilderness. And the centres of power seldom like what the prophets have to say. But what the supporters of the Leap Manifesto have to say at least needs to be heard. It’s just not going to do anyone any favours in the short term.

The Leap Manifesto proposes a fast-track to an energy future that does not use fossil fuels – at all. It proposes that no government should approve, much less put money into growth in infrastructure to develop and transport more bitumen, oil and natural gas to market. And coal? Those days are over.

All of this puts the most recent and popular provincial NDP government, in Alberta, and its new star leader Rachel Notley, in a serious crimp.

No official in the Alberta government is going to seriously consider abandoning our natural resources for the mere sake of saving the planet on Canada’s behalf. It’s just not going to happen.

Proponents of Leap strive mightily to reinforce that their manifesto is just a discussion document, not a party platform. But calling it a manifesto implies future action. It does not wonder aloud what we should be doing or ask for your agreement. It proposes policy.

That makes it totally non grata in a province that could supply energy self-sufficiency for the whole country. Notley called the document naive and tone deaf.

One can excuse naiveté in a discussion paper. Tone deafness is death to a political party.

Of course, Alberta’s ruling NDPers are not the only ones unsettled by the manifesto. The NDP government in Manitoba will have to juggle that ball while facing a provincial election on April 19.

The wilderness – where the prophets come from – beckons the party once again.

And, for now, that’s good news for the Liberals in Ottawa. But not so much for provincial NDP governments.

Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

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