Musings —10.14.2013 06:44 PM—
Poking through the electoral entrails, looking for the federal angle, editorialists and opinion-opiners always assign far too much importance to (a) byelections, and (b) provincial elections.
It’s ill-advised, because (a) byelections are lousy predictors of future general-election voter behaviour, and (b) in Canada, federal and provincial political parties generally share only their names.
There is, for instance, absolutely no connection — zero, zippo, zilch — between federal and provincial Liberals and Conservatives.
Alison Redford and Stephen Harper? Christy Clark and Justin Trudeau? They are, respectively, Conservatives and Liberals who have nothing in common, with the possible exception of mutual disdain.
There is one political party, however, that is the same party federally and provincially: The New Democrats. In Ottawa, and in places like Nova Scotia, they are one big, happy social democratic family.
Well, sort of. Last week, of course, the NDP’s first government east of Ontario had its keester kicked, hard. New Democrat Premier Darrell Dexter, once a shining star in the federal NDP firmament, saw his majority government reduced to ignominious third-party status in the Nova Scotia legislature. And he lost his own seat.
There are all sorts of reasons why the Liberal’s sober, solid Stephen McNeil won big. Dexter said he wouldn’t raise taxes, for example, and he did. He said he had a budgetary surplus when, by most accounts, he didn’t. And he gifted the Irvings — one of the country’s richest families — with $300 million in Nova Scotia tax dollars, in addition to a multi-billion dollar federal ship-building contract.
All of those things hurt. But by my reckoning, there was something else that hurt the Nova Scotia NDP, too. And that was that their federal leader was Thomas Mulcair, and not Jack Layton.
Jack Layton possessed the rarest of political assets: He was much-liked and, in some cases, actually adored.
He was a genial, easy-going guy. And he was federal leader when Dexter was elected in 2009. Everywhere Jack went in that year, he cast a warm orange glow over New Democratic fortunes.
His successor, however, could not be more different. Angry Tom, Mulcair is called, because he is. Humourless, pitiless, bloodless: With his patrician beard, and his irritated disposition, Mulcair has unmade all of Layton’s good works.
The NDP could not have picked a leader more unlike Jack Layton if they tried (and they did).
Mulcair did not go anywhere near the Nova Scotia election campaign. Justin Trudeau did, however, and provincial Liberals say he helped them win plenty of seats.
The likeable Conservative leader, Jamie Baillie, trumpeted his connections to Stephen Harper everywhere he went, and he wasn’t punished for doing so — he, in fact, will now be leader of the Opposition in Nova Scotia’s legislature.
It isn’t hard to feel some sympathy for Darrell Dexter. He tried to be a businesslike New Democrat, in the Roy Romanow mould. For his trouble, he alienated his own base, and he never achieved the trust of the Halifax-centred business community.
On election night, as he surveyed the wreckage that was his party, Dexter deserved condolences, not contempt.
Thomas Mulcair? Well, New Democrats picked him, and they shouldn’t have. Soon enough, they are going to rue their choice, both (a) federally, and (b) provincially.