For most of my life, my relationship with politics has been as an observer. It wasn’t really until high school that I started paying attention to it and that was thanks to my best friend, an ardent Canadian nationalist obsessed with current events. The day after the 1987 New Brunswick provincial election, in which Frank McKenna led his Liberal Party to a 58 seat sweep of the legislature, he met me in the school’s hallway and asked if I had watched the election returns on CBC last night.
Not wanting to let him down, I said I had and then nodded cheerfully in agreement as he recounted the excited coverage of what was, in fact, an historic accomplishment. One which I hadn’t seen because I was probably watching Moonlighting (which, according to Wikipedia, was on TV that night). But it was my friend who showed me how interesting Canadian politics can be and as a result, he was something of a good influence on me.
After that, I got better at paying attention to politics. A friend at university sent me to a Liberal rally in 1993 where Liberal leader Jean Chrétien reacted to a negative ad put out by the PCs (his reaction is about 30 seconds into the video). 1993 was also the first year I could vote federally. Because of this II was brought into a panel discussion of young, first time voters on the local CBC morning show. On the show, I took my then incumbent MP to task for failing to show up at one of the debates and eventually admitted that I would be voting NDP. For a guy who, at the time, was trying break into radio broadcasting, declaring my party allegiance on the public airwaves probably wasn’t the best career move. As you may have noticed, I don’t currently work in broadcasting.
I spent the 90’s political aware in as much as I went first to the politics section of the newspaper but never spent much time in party politics. Once while freelancing for a local alternative weekly, I attended a talk given by Stockwell Day who was running for the leadership of what was called at the time the Canadian Alliance. At the time, I thought he was a bit of an intellectual lightweight and didn’t think his social conservatism would play well in Atlantic Canada, which tends to go for the more measured Robert Stanfield style of conservative politics.
In 2002, I joined the NDP long enough to vote for Jack Layton as I was tired of seeing the party come in with its usual 30 or 40 seats and thought Layton would be the guy to change that. In the long run, it turned out to be correct but it took ten years and Layton would not live to lead the Official Opposition.
After he died, I decided to join the party. While I don’t agree with every one of their policies, overall, they’re the best fit for me politically. I harbour no illusions about party politics and the realities of governing. Should the NDP ever form government, its most ardent supporters will need to realize that compromises will need to be made if they wish to continue governing. The key part of it is that I would be more comfortable with an NDP compromise than a Liberal one. My initial goal is to work with the local riding association to get an NDP MP elected in my riding in the next election.
So I emailed them and asked if I could volunteer. Their representative emailed back and mentioned the leadership debate that was held last night at Concordia. I asked if there was anything they needed me to do but they never got back to me. I’m not really sure what happened there. They maybe just had the people they needed. If you follow my Twitter feed, it’s evident that I ended up going to Concordia to watch the thing myself.
I don’t think anyone would ever accuse the NDP leadership candidates of not being on the same page. It was the most cordial debate I’d ever witnessed. There was some disagreement between the candidates from rural Canada, Niki Ashton and Nathan Cullen, and those candidates from urban Canada: Peggy Nash, Brian Topp. The other front runner, Thomas Mulcair, was not in attendance due to a previous commitment.
But overall, it seems that the race is not about defining the party ideologically. That’s already done. It’s about selling that to enough Canadians to form a government and that involves finding the right person to make that pitch. I think that person will most likely end up being Brian Topp and I may well vote for him as leader. He satisfies a lot of qualities required for a national leader: fluently bilingual, from Quebec, lives in Toronto, but worked with NDP governments in Saskatchewan.
I was impressed with the youngest candidate: Niki Ashton. I’ve read a few condescending remarks concerning her age but I think people underestimate her at their peril. While, clearly, she’s not going to be leader, I can see her doing big things in the party further down the road.
Also, Ashton has the best campaign poster by a mile. I just can’t see Nathan Cullen pulling off that sleeveless black dress look.
So there it is. I went and joined a party. I even bought an NDP coffee mug so, clearly, this is serious.