Lise St. Denis

The time has come for the federal New Democratic Party to loosen up and let its rookie-rich Quebec caucus learn how to be good Members of Parliament right out there in public.

Yeah, there are risks in such a course of action. But there are risks in trying to control the caucus with an iron grip worthy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well, as the last few weeks of chatter about an NDP in “disarray,” culminating in the Jan. 9 defection of Lise St. Denis to the faltering Liberals, have revealed.

I’ve got bad news and good news for you. Worse is almost certain to come. Hell, a Quebec New Democrat may even defect to the Harper Tories for all we know. It’s a pretty big caucus with enough people who didn’t expect to get elected that one supposes anything could happen. And that would be like … what? An Alberta Conservative crossing the floor to join the Trudeau Liberals? (Hey, Jack Horner, c’mon down!)

St. Denis’ decision to cross to Liberals, or even a few more like it, doesn’t add up to the L-shaped Party putting the L back in Lazarus and rising from the dead. Canadians have cottoned onto their arrogance and entitlement, and the exaggerated notion of their corruption has been firmly implanted in our collective mind, so it’s said here that stain isn’t going to wash out.

That may be why Liberal Party Interim Leader Bob Rae admitted at his news conference announcing the defection of the MP for St-Maurice-Champlain that he didn’t really think it meant very much. “It’s certainly not a day where we’re going to make some exaggerated claim as to what trend does this represent,” he told the media. “I have no idea.”

And that may even be why the virulently pro-Harper mainstream media seems to have let the matter drop.

Still, under the Liberal Party’s present circumstances, you can hardly blame Rae for taking an MP wherever he could find one — even if it was a pleasant and rather elderly person who seemed thoroughly confused about why she ran in the first place.

So what’s the good news? Loud arguments, tears shed, or even several defections over the next few months are not going to keep the NDP Quebec caucus from turning into an effective political force, and they’re not going to keep the NDP from turning into the government of Canada, especially if it manages to pick the right leader.

As NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp shrewdly observed on his recent visit to Edmonton, “all politics ends in tears.” The Liberal Party has already had its lachrymose moment, no matter what lies they told themselves last weekend at their convention in Ottawa. The Conservative government led by Harper, whom Canadians instinctively dislike and distrust, will have its moment too.

But if you want to see the Harper Conservatives skidded from power, it’s going to have to be the NDP that does the job.

This is why, even before a national leader is chosen, now would be a good time for the NDP to loosen the reins a little on its Quebec caucus and let those members learn to be good MPs in public, early in the game.

As even the National Post admitted, while there may be a few duds among the MPs last year’s Orange Wave washed up in Ottawa (one less as of last week, as a matter of fact), there are also some remarkably talented people who are already shining pretty brightly.

Which is why I think, even as the leadership race continues, that NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel should offer those MPs the opportunity to shine in front of the entire country, not just in their own constituencies.

And you know what? Some of them might mess up, and mess up publicly. If that happens, the Tory Rage Machine will certainly jump on it and try to use it to sow seeds of doubt about the NDP.

But so what? I think Canadians would get it. They already get it that the Conservatives are a sleazy American-style party that will stoop to anything to hang onto power. They don’t particularly like it. But like voters here in Alberta, they’re unlikely to vote for another party until they are shown that it can govern too.

They also get it that the Quebec caucus is full of rookies, and it is said here they will mostly react with sympathy and understanding as those committed new MPs learn how to be an effective governing party in public.

Finally, there is the matter of our depressed and progressive young people — who here in Alberta are a significant factor in the fact almost 60 per cent of eligible voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot in the last provincial election.

I think the sight of articulate, young, successful New Democrats from Quebec on their Alberta doorsteps would energize and motivate young Albertans not just to vote, not just to vote NDP, but to run for office themselves!

A recent comment under a post on this blog about 29-year-old leadership candidate Niki Ashton’s visit to Edmonton said, “I’m tired of the ageism, tired of the inside bullshit that’s going on, tired of the Boomers and their old-school ways. It’s time to move forward, to engage youth and to be the progressives we say we are.”

What better way to inspire progressive young people in Alberta than the example of progressive young people who have succeeded in politics in another province?

What better way to show Albertans of all ages that, notwithstanding the Tory and media propaganda, the NDP Quebec caucus is full of talented people who could contribute to a humane and progressive national government?

And what better way to let our new Quebec New Democrats learn and grow in an atmosphere where the impact of any mistakes are likely to be minimized?

In case any New Democrats in Ottawa have missed it — easy to do since the Ottawa media ignores Western Canada — there’s a provincial electing coming up in Alberta in which the NDP has hopes of forming the official Opposition.

I say the best way for the NDP to put Lise St. Denis behind them where she belongs — and to make a significant positive contribution as well — is to fill a couple of planes with those new Quebec MPs and bring them to Alberta to help with our campaign.

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While we’re on the topic of the NDP, I’m afraid I just can’t get my knickers in a twist about the fact NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair has dual Canadian-French citizenship.

For one thing, Mulcair has been totally open about this, declaring it to be so without being prompted at NDP leadership forums long before the press got onto it. I guess this is what passes for a big scoop at Postmedia News nowadays.

Maybe it matters to most Canadians, like it might have mattered when it turned out that Stephane Dion held Canadian and French passports. Maybe it doesn’t, as it doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Ted Morton, who is widely assumed here in Alberta to be a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen.

It’s a disadvantage, without a doubt, for those of us who don’t enjoy the advantages of dual citizenship. My guess is raising this issue, as both Prime Minister Harper and the late NDP leader Jack Layton have done, will prove to be a double-edged sword. Back in 2006, according to the CBC, 41 MPs qualified. So did at least two signatories to the famous Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto, although one of them was apparently not Harper. So do a dozen or more Alberta MLAs.

Is this to become a question for anyone running for public office in Canada? I guess so. I’ll certainly be asking all my local candidates.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...