Jack Layton and the NDP

16 Jan

Pop quiz. Which Canadian politician said the following?:

“There isn’t a law on the statute books of this country that doesn’t carry the imprint of the NDP… A party that can have that kind of influence without being in office federally is a very valuable instrument and I make no apologies for it. I’m very happy to be a part of it. ”

No. Not Jack Layton. But one of his predecessors as NDP Leader. The words were spoken more than thirty years ago by David Lewis, father of Stephen, and leader of the federal party from 1971 to 1974.

Most of Lewis’s tenure coincided with Pierre Trudeau’s minority government of 1972 to 1974 – the narrowest minority in Canadian history. That government only survived as long as it did thanks to the support of the Lewis-led NDP. In exchange for that support, the Liberals pursued an NDP-friendly agenda, introducing an affordable housing strategy, pension indexing and Petro-Canada.

But when the New Democrats finally pulled the plug on that government, things didn’t work out so well for them. Trudeau won a majority in the 1974 election and the NDP lost half of its seats, including Lewis’s.

Fast forward to last year’s federal election, triggered once again by the NDP’s decision to stop propping up a Liberal minority government. From a strategic point of view, it worked out better for the party. Layton’s party went from 19 to 29 seats. But some say that the NDP traded substantial influence with Paul Martin’s government – remember the federal budget rewrite? – for the political wilderness under the Conservatives.

In the past couple of weeks, thanks to the departure of two MPs from the Liberal caucus, the NDP has once again regained the balance of power in Parliament.

The big question among political observers: What will the party do about it?

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