01 May 2011

Torn, and Not Torn

This last week has been a fascinating one in the federal election campaign. It will be very interesting to see if the results tomorrow evening bear out the trends in the polls.

Suddenly, Québec seems to have fallen in love with the NDP, and people elsewhere in Canada are noticing and, to a lesser extent, following. I don't think anyone could have predicted this, least of all the NDP itself. They have been caught out with a few candidates who were placeholders, but all of the other parties have these for ridings where they don't expect to have a chance. The media, focused as they have been on the leaders (I blame the publicity machines of all the parties), have not shared with us the various qualifications and accomplishments of some of the candidates, and this applies to all the parties.

Many years ago, after the death of MP Jean-Claude Malépart, there was a by-election in what was then and is still my riding. As was my wont, I volunteered for the NDP candidate and voted for her, too. But I couldn't help noticing the candidate who won and who has been my MP ever since: Gilles Duceppe.

This was a turbulent period in politics in Canada. The Meech Lake Accord, an attempt to bring Québec into the constitution, had just failed. Even the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa was sounding like it was ready to hold a sovereignty referendum. Mr. Duceppe, then a union advisor, ran as an independent candidate under the slogan of the newly formed (but not yet officially recognized) Bloc québécois. He could have stood up, at this point in history, and wrapped himself in the Québec flag and been elected in a landslide. He did more than that, speaking out on issues of poverty and housing and other issues of importance to the people of the riding. I will always respect him for that.

He was briefly leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa, before the Reform Party rose to displace the Bloc from this role, and I have to say that here, too, he was impressive. While English Canadians might think of the Bloc as being uniquely focused on Québec issues, Duceppe took this role seriously, and travelled across the country to better understand the perspectives of Canadians from every region. I have always thought we were better off having a Liberal government being criticized from the left than the same being criticized from the right (as we got when the Reform Party took over) or a Conservative government criticized from the centre.

As an MP, he has always been very effective in his job. Most Canadians don't realize the importance and usefulness of turning to their local representatives at the federal and provincial levels to navigate the sometimes murky waters of items in their respective jurisdictions. Duceppe and his staff have always been very good at helping constituents. We had occasion recently to assess this on a more macro level, as a dispute between the federal Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and the Association des pharmacien-ne-s proprietaries du Québec (APPQ) led to a cutting off of coverage for medication for immigrants and refugees covered by the Interim Federal Health Program. Our letters went unanswered by the minister and his colleague the minister of health, also by the critics and regional representatives of the other parties, but Gilles Duceppe and his staff intervened to negotiate with the APPQ to end their pressure tactic, as it was hurting the most vulnerable among us.

If the rise of the NDP turns out to be real, I might very well go back to them. Not this time, though. There are some inconsistencies with my own values (Free vote on the gun registry? Really?!! Mixed messages on the status of Québec?) that I know I'm going to have to work through if I ever do go back there.

The lefty in me can't begrudge the NDP its success, but it also has a problem abandoning the party with good left wing credentials and policies that we already have. I have an even bigger problem even thinking of abandoning the person of my MP, Gilles Duceppe, for whom I have such great respect.

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