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Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator, and social and political activist with a lifelong commitment to African development. He is preoccupied with genocide and genocide prevention, particularly the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, about which he has frequently written. He has been a consultant on African development issues to many United Nations agencies as well as to the African Union. His latest book is called The Betrayal of Africa. He writes a weekly online column for the Globe and Mail.

Playing 'gotcha' with the NDP

| August 5, 2011

It never stops and never will. The moment the NDP seems even close to power, the knives come out.

The election was May 2. The NDP's rise began barely two weeks prior. Here's what it faced in these past three months:

"MassageGate." Suddenly, just before the election, it became necessary for the Sun media to smear Jack Layton over a massage he had 15 years earlier, and for Christie Blatchford to repeat the smear, even agreeing it was a smear.

"LasVegasGate." The NDP makes history in the election. It sweeps Quebec and emerges as Official Opposition. But its new MPs are immediately dismissed as a joke. Like a gang of bullies picking on someone who can't defend herself, reporters fall all over themselves to mock a candidate who spent part of the election in Las Vegas. She becomes a symbol of the immaturity of the new NDP MPs, even though few reporters had ever spoken to a single one of them. Having finally met them, these stories abruptly ceased.

"Jack'sCancerGate." Within seconds of Mr. Layton's announcement that he was temporarily stepping aside because of a new cancer but intended to return in the fall, the burial of the NDP began. The NDP was finished without Mr. Layton, even though he hadn't resigned. He was irreplaceable. Day after day for an entire week, the rhetorical question got asked and re-asked: Can the NDP make it Jack-less? The answer was seen to be self-evident.

"ComeCleanAboutCancerGate." Out of nowhere, the cry goes up that Mr. Layton must divulge everything about his cancer. What was he hiding? The world had a right and a need to know every single detail. Soon the rest of the pack picked it up. Everyone wanted to know something that was none of their business and of no conceivable use if they did know.

And now, finally, "TurmelGate" -- the scandalous truth that the new acting leader, Nycole Turmel, had been a Bloc Québécois member and that she was therefore a separatist.

All other parties have thrown themselves into the ganging-up with great indignant gusto.

Underlining once again the Caplan Rule that shamelessness is the secret of a successful leader, Stephen Harper -- the Firewall Kid himself, a man who explicitly wanted Alberta to secede from many of the operations of this country -- has the gall to shed crocodile tears of disappointment about Ms. Turmel.

This is very much a teachable moment both for the NDP and for the country.

It was a serious mistake for the NDP not to be transparent about Ms. Turmel's past BQ affiliation when she was chosen interim leader. I'm sure they know that now, after much damage has been done. But they must know too that every day is a potential gotcha day for the NDP and they shouldn't be offering easy ammunition.

On the conservative/business side, there is a fierce determination to make sure the party is not a serious challenger four years from now. In the case of the media, there's the perception of an easy victim, not yet ready for prime time, one that will furnish many a juicy story. Unless it's truly on guard 24/7, instead of being able to pursue its own agenda the party may well find itself permanently on the defensive, warding off blows from every corner.

There's a separate lesson for the country. Quebec is different from the rest of Canada in ways we often ignore. Ms. Turmel is one symbol of this difference. For Ms. Turmel -- Québécoise, Canadian, federalist, trade union leader, New Democrat -- to carry a Bloc card for a few years was no big deal.

Some thought that lesson was learned election night. The reason so many Québécois could move en masse from the Bloc to the NDP was not just because Mr. Layton was a great guy to have a beer with. He also shared and represented their values. Mr. Layton was progressive, a social democrat, committed to social justice. So were many Bloc voters who didn't want Quebec to separate. Those were the social values that the two parties shared and that allowed the massive voting switch once it was clear that the Bloc was an exhausted force.

Maclean's writer Martin Patriquin provides some useful insights. "... it's amazing how few people have clued into this head-smackingly obvious point, but Turmel willingly ripped up her Bloc Québécois membership card to run for a dyed-in-orange federalist party [emphasis in original]. That alone should be evidence enough that her sovereigntist credentials weren't quite Parizeau-calibre. If anything, Turmel's (temporary) ascension to the head of the party, like the NDP's overwhelming victory in May, is proof positive that detaching the left from the sovereigntist movement isn't as impossible as it once was. How far we've come."

It's only a matter of time until Quebec realizes the province and its interests are no longer a priority for much of Canada, especially for a right-wing government that Québécois repudiated and where the west and Ontario dominate. For all of us who can't envision a Canada sans Quebec, there is dangerous potential here. Unexpectedly, the NDP has emerged as the best federalist bridge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Jack Layton and Nycole Turmel are the embodiment of that bridge.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

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Comments

Not withstanding the need for all mainstream media to gang up against the NDP for being so stupid or careless as to choose an interim leader who was a card-carrying member of the Bloc, nowhere have I heard or seen anyone commenting that all the new Quebecois members who won seats with the NDP were former members of the Bloc. The reason that the NDP were so triumphant in the last Federal election was that the party won over the support of Bloc members, causing the Bloc to collapse. So picking on one new NDP member as a former Bloc member is not really news...unless you are insistent on discrediting the NDP and showing that your motives are less than worthy. That Bob Rae would join in on this refrain shows him to be just as unscrupulous as the rest of them.

Not cheap shots Dacckon. You missed the point completely. What have the Conservatives got to do with this at all? And what does Quebec have to do it for that matter? That's the point Dacckon. For right or wrong, the impression in the Rest of Canada; forget Quebec and their politics; is that the NDP is becoming the Orange Bloc. .  This is politics and the NDP is now a very high profile opposition party. Placing a card carrying seperatist in the Leaders chair is bound to seriously erode NDP support in the ROC; again note I am not talking about Quebec. This really should of tremendous concern to the NDP party. The NDP is in serious danger of imploding from within, and all you can talk about is Conservatives. Thats is what I was saying to Mr. Caplan.  As to M. Bernier et al .. fine and dandy, but they aren't currently nor likely to be, the Leader Of the Official Oppostion; the apparent 'Government in Waiting'. This moves the bar to a whole new level; again note I don't talk about Quebec. Again. I'm talking about NDP support in the ROC. Think for a moment ... once the only support the NDP has comes out of Quebec alone, they have indeed, become the Bloc. No?

Very nice cheap shots bill_37. Firstly, the conservative media which in mass sided with Harper has made a nonissue of a past membership into a firestorm. You call it a Quebec party when previously they only had one seat in Quebec. And then you do admit that the NDP is being painted by others as a bloc, and that in itself is not comming from progressive media outlets. Its ironic that many conservatives were former members of the bloc. Maxime Bernier swore an oath to an independant quebec to a PQ government. You have absolutely no idea how politics in Quebec works

Wow. So it's the Consevatives who have orchestated all of this. Is it? Really?  The fact that the NDP is now a Quebec party led by a so-so seperatist is the Conservatives fault? Keep it up Mr. Caplan. You are the worst enemy the NDP has ever had; a wolf in sheep's clothing within the flock itself. You make it sound like this is a 'game'; as you repeatedly say. It is not a game sir. The NDP is being effectively painted as the "Bloc A L'Orange" amongst the overwhelming majority of Canadians, and you say 'Nothing here to see, move along please'? This is your informed opinion on the issue? Pitiful really. Don't you see that what you've written here is the *worst* possible message to send out right now? Your party is standing on the brink of annihilation in the ROC and this is your response? Bizarre ... and good luck with that.

Playing a variety of games seems to be the modern-day tactic of the "right wing".  In the US the Koch brothers have refined it to "legal"fraud, as they sent out bogus absentee ballots to registered Democrats in Wisconsin for the August 9 recall elections.  These ballots mis-informed people by stating the election was for Aug. 11, and they gave a non-existing return address so as to misdirect these votes.  That should be a criminal offence.

In Canada, the Harper gang has been running attack ads since the selection of Dionne as Liberal leader, and continued this tactic through Ignatieff's leadership.  This tactic worked for the sheeple, as the masses became convinced that each of these leaders "was not up for the job", one of their more popular slogans. 

It's painfully obvious that the opposition parties must not only fight back, but also that they must remain vigilant  for signs that our Cons are also adopting PAC tactics in the manner of the Koch brothers (who also have oil and gas interests her in Alberta) or in the manner of Karl Rove (dirty tricks master for the Republican Party and regular on FOX).

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