Today, I’m going to take a look at the history of the New Democratic Party. It definitely is a baby in comparison to the Liberals and Conservatives, who have ran Canadian politics since the first prime minister in 1867. The NDP officially began in 1961 in Ottawa at a convention that united the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), affiliated unions of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and New Party clubs. Where once this party was only a background blip, with the majority of its support coming from the wheat fields of Saskatchewan, today it appears to be poised on the brink of making a definite impact in Canada’s history. But before we take a look at what they stand for today, let’s see how they came to be in the first place.
The CCF was founded in the early days of the Great Depression (1933) and originated out of groups like the United Farmers of Alberta, some academics and labour groups and allied farm and union organizations. Back in those days, the CCF stood for a mixed economy (both characteristics of capitalism and socialism), nationalization of key industries and a people’s “welfare” state. Universal health care came out of the first CCF leadership – a provincial government in Saskatchewan led by Tommy Douglas. Its full name was: “Cooperative Commonwealth Federation – Farmer Labour Socialist”; they supported a full cooperative commonwealth, eradication of capitalism and were generally not in favour of Canada’s involvement in WW2. Let it be clear that though they did begin to lay the groundwork for labour unions in our country during the Depression, they, like the Conservatives and Liberals of the day, did little to help Canada’s great suffering during this time. Had it not been for WW2, who knows where we’d be today!
In 1956, they joined with Canada’s labour groups to form the Canadian Labour Congress, which in August 1961 formed the New Democratic Party, incorporating the CCF but welding a stronger working arrangement with organized labour, under the leadership of Tommy Douglas. As a political party, their hold was not strong for most of the time until the 2011 election. In these 50 years, the best they could hope for was to influence the minority governments in whatever way they could.
Found in How To Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson, a slightly satirical (and slightly truthful) commentary on this group can be found: “The NDP are about as fashionable as permed hair and disco sideburns. As Canada’s national socialist party fades into the twilight of its increasingly irrelevant ideology, many a media pundit gets nostalgic and speaks wistfully about a possible “retro-craze” that will see the silliness that is socialism taken seriously again by someone outside the CBC. The NDP believes in massive government intervention at every level of your life, from the bedroom to the boardroom. Living under an NDP government would be like renting a room from your parents. Party Motto: ‘Vote NDP, because more red tape is just what this country needs!’ Question: They oppose capital punishment but they support abortion? Answer: Yes. Question: What are they, a bunch of idiots?” … No comment. (2001, p.194)
As satirical as the above is, there are solid points from these 50 years in NDP history – they were the ‘flower children’ of Canadian politics (remember their opposition to WW2 involvement?), they were socialist in origin, the CBC did love them because they would completely fund them, and they do believe in having their fingers in every part of what this country does. They did oppose capital punishment, they did support abortion and a fully funded child care. That’s what their roots are.
In 2011, something began to happen – Jack Layton took over the leadership reigns. He was a charismatic leader and suddenly, the NDP vaulted past the Liberals and ousted the Bloc Quebecois’s hold in Quebec to become the official opposition. In great part, it seems that their surge was a vote against the Liberal government, who was led by Michael Ignatieff. He was not admired by the Canadian populace and was seen as arrogant and anti-Canadian as he did not have sole Canadian citizenship. Some of the NDP major platform promises in the 2011 election included: capping credit card rates at 5% above prime, pledged to train 1,200 more doctors and 6,000 more nurses, reduce the tuition fees by increasing transfer payments to the Provinces, to abolish the Senate, a gradual doubling of Canada Pension Plan and QPP benefits and to hire 2500 more police officers to prevent crime. Apparently, according to the Liberals, the NDP platform of 2011 contained over $30 billion of new spending from sources not credible.
I’m not sure if people have set the NDP history aside, if they have neglected to find out their roots, if the NDP has moved away from who they once were or if it no longer applies. Maybe this leopard has changed its spots … regardless, it seems a ‘retro-craze’ is in full bloom.