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Why has the Official Opposition not gained the respect it should have earned?

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Here's a dilemma.

You are the Official Opposition and have, by all accounts, been doing a more-than-competent and effective job in Parliament.

But, for all that, you seem to get too little recognition or respect.

That seems to be the dilemma of the NDP as Parliament's summer break gets under way.

Virtually everybody who watches Parliament regularly says NDP leader Tom Mulcair -- and other Official Opposition MPs such as Megan Leslie, Charlie Angus and Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe -- have done a masterful job of interrogating the government on the various aspects of what is now simply known as the Senate Scandal.

But those who pay close heed to Parliament -- even Question Period -- are, it seems, a distinct minority.

As for the debates in Parliament and the goings on of Parliamentary Committees -- well, the Conservative government has tried to avoid the former and bypass the latter as much as possible.

It has stuffed a good part of its legislation into the oversized sausages of bulky omnibus bills, which it has shoved through Parliament the way foie gras producers force-feed geese.

Strong performers and a measure of political courage

Within the limitations imposed by these anti-democratic tactics, however, NDP members have performed well.

They have been focused, well-informed and effective, both in debate and committee.

They have even shown a measure of political courage, as in the case of Immigration Critic Jinny Sims and her colleagues on the Commons Immigration Committee.

The NDPers were the only ones to speak up for the much-maligned Roma people, even though there are no political points to be gained, and lots of political risks, in doing so.

During all the debates and discussions on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's package of refugee system reforms the Liberals, by contrast, uttered not a word about the Roma.

One got the impression Liberal MPs were a bit too mindful of the widespread 'anti-Gypsy' bigotry out there in that vast notional middle class, engendered not only by extreme comments from some broadcasters, but by the more subtle jabs of Minister Kenney, what with his frequent talk of 'welfare seeking bogus refugees.'

But if only a few pay much heed these days to the theatrical spectacle of Question Period, almost no one follows the rest of Parliament's proceedings.

It seems that the Official Opposition's successes in Parliament are a bit like Bishop Berkeley's tree that falls in the forest when nobody is around.

If nobody sees or hears that tree -- is it really there?

Berkeley argued that the tree is there because God is always there. That tree exists, in fact, as an image in the mind of God.

Politicians -- however often some might invoke a higher being -- need the attentive awareness of voters, not the Almighty.

And opinion pollsters tell us that Canadian voters seem to be under the thrall, for now, of new Liberal Leader, Justin Trudeau, despite the solid performance of the NDP as Official Opposition.

Of course, opinion pollsters, these days, are bit like the blind men and the elephant in the old Indian folk tale.

They touch the tail and think they've got a snake.

Still, opinion polls, media and the chatter of elites combined have created a notion that the current third party is now the natural and logical alternative to Harper’s increasingly problematic regime.

Elite view: NDP's 2011 success was an accident and the Party is now barely relevant

Most members of the elites of Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere do not follow Parliament any more closely than the rest of us.

They are very little aware of, nor much interested in, the effective work the current Official Opposition Party has been doing.

Their view of the NDP is that its success in 2011 was a fluke, brought on by Jack Layton's winning personality and a massive protest vote of the kind one gets periodically in Quebec.

Tom Mulcair may well be a quick-witted, smart and highly qualified Opposition Leader, whose economic policies and positions are resolutely moderate and middle-of-the-road.

And he very well might have assembled a front bench team that constitutes a highly credible government-in-waiting, including, as it does, experienced and knowledgeable folk such as the aforementioned Megan Leslie, long time local and national politician Libby Davies, economist Guy Caron, lawyer Don Davies, energy and environment maven Peter Julian, one-time national union leader Nycole Turmel, lawyer and broadcaster Françoise Boivin, and constitutional law professor Craig Scott.

It all means virtually nothing to the many members of Canada's elites who have decided that that Liberals are back and poised to replace the -- to put it mildly --  rather disappointing Harper gang.

Many of the Ottawa and Toronto elites say, based on no actual information, that the NDP does not have the enough of the sort of folks one would need in a cabinet, that the current Official Opposition Party is still too attached to the 'socialist' shibboleths of its past, and, for good measure, that its leader's image is too much that of an "angry old guy."

The facts are quite different -- except for that highly subjective image issue for the Leader.

But those views are not about facts; they are about a gestalt, a general impression.

Still a lot of reserve about Justin Trudeau

On the other hand, one should add that a lot of those same elite folks are still reserving judgment on the charming and affable -- and young and handsome -- new Liberal Leader.

Many of them fear that those cheery, flowing waters do not run very deep.

And some are suspicious of the notion that a leader does not need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, because he/she can always surround him/her self with some really sharp knives.

What happens, some ask, when those sharp knives start slashing at each other?

It ain't over till it's over and there are two years until the next election.

Today’s conventional wisdom -- and opinion polls -- will be long forgotten in 2015.

What is indisputable is that there are now two national parties seeking to overturn a government that a growing number of Canadians fear is dangerously antipathetic to the basic tenets of democracy.

Until the next election, that government has full control of the levers of power.

Both the major opposition parties may want to focus more on that fact than on each other.

 

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