That was the week that was not …

Oct 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton and his wife and NDP candidate Olivia Chow show his father's parliamentary pin ring that he wears for good luck after casting their federal election votes in Toronto, October 14, 2008. The late Robert Layton was a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament in the 1980's. (Reuters).

New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton and his wife and NDP candidate Olivia Chow show his father's parliamentary pin ring that he wears for good luck after casting their federal election votes in Toronto, October 14, 2008. The late Robert Layton was a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament in the 1980's. (Reuters).

BRITANNIA VILLAGE, ONTARIO. FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2009. According to some imperfect plan apparently devised some months ago now, this was supposed to be the week when the Ignatieff Liberals led the majority opposition parties of the 40th Parliament of Canada in bringing down the Harper Conservative government.

Instead: “The House of Commons voted 144-117 on Thursday against a Liberal motion to bring down the minority Conservatives … The Liberals and Bloc Quebecois supported the motion while the Tories opposed it and the NDP abstained … The NDP has served notice that it will prop up the government at least until legislation worth $1 billion in enhanced benefits for the unemployed is passed.”

Meanwhile, the weekly EKOS-CBC poll reports 36.0% Conservatives, 29.7% Liberals, 13.9% New Democrats, 10.5% Greens, and 9.8% Bloc Quebecois. And the latest Angus Reid-Toronto Star survey has  37% Conservatives, 27% Liberals, 17% New Democrats, 11% Bloc Quebecois, and 6% Greens.

There are at least two quite different readings of the current Canadian federal political data. At one extreme is an article by historian Michael Bliss in today’s Globe and Mail. This urges that “the balance between Canada’s major parties is at or very near a historic tipping point. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have seized the central ground of the political spectrum and are poised to become the country’s natural governing party … Sooner or later, the contempt that many …still seem to feel for … Mr. Harper …  is going to begin to give way to the realization that he is on the verge of becoming the next Mackenzie King” (the Incredible Canadian who, for those who may have forgotten, still holds the record as Canada’s longest-lived prime minister).

Pollster Frank Graves gives another view in the latest EKOS-CBC survey: “Perhaps the most interesting results from this week’s poll are not the party standings, which have remained relatively stable, but … other questions we asked which show the emergence of ‘two Canadas’ … ‘Conservative Canada’ represents a little over a third of the electorate. For this group, the country and the Harper government are both moving … in the right direction … And then there is the rest of Canada, who … don’t like the direction … Conservative Canada is ‘proud’ of our national environmental position … the rest say they are ‘embarrassed’ … On Afghanistan, Conservative Canada continues to support the military mission … among the rest of the country there is clear majority opposition … These two policy areas are reflective of many other areas … where Canadians are polarized … These cleavages also express themselves demographically. Conservative Canada is decidedly older, male, economically comfortable and Western.”

Jack Layton’s grandfather, Gilbert Layton (far right), at the Duplessis provincial cabinet table in Quebec. With him are (left to right), Maurice Duplessis, Martin Fisher, Onésime Gagnon, John Bourque, William Tremblay, Joseph Bilodeau, and Thomas Joseph Coonan.

Jack Layton’s grandfather, Gilbert Layton (far right), at the Duplessis provincial cabinet table in Quebec. With him are (left to right), Maurice Duplessis, Martin Fisher, Onésime Gagnon, John Bourque, William Tremblay, Joseph Bilodeau, and Thomas Joseph Coonan.

Mr. Graves’s view also leads naturally enough into questions about just what Jack Layton and the New Democrats may or may not be doing in their current “propping up” of the Harper Conservative minority government. And at least some of what I have been hearing lately points vaguely at Mr. Layton’s family political heritage.

As not everyone outside the ancient folkways of anglophone Montreal may appreciate, even now, current federal NDP leader Jack Layton’s “father, Robert Layton, served in Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s cabinet after quitting the Liberals over Pierre Trudeau’s decision to repatriate the constitution in 1982 without Quebec. His grandfather, Gilbert Layton, was a cabinet minister in Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis’ government who quit in protest over the Quebec government’s decision to oppose conscription in World War II.”

A person with this political lineage might do almost anything, some would say — including what Mr. Layton is doing right now (for conceivably quite good reasons that the Canadian people will ultimately even somehow reward?). But at some point soon enough Mr. Layton’s party is going to have to decide whether it really wants to be part of Frank Graves’s “Conservative Canada,” that “is ‘proud’ of our national environmental position,” and that continues to support the military mission in Afghanistan, etc, etc, etc. And the really big question right now, it would still seem, is what will happen then?

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  1. Hello,
    Interesting blog, congratulations for your quality of writing!

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