Yesterday I reported Bob Rae saying that his problem with the NDP is that they care too much about how to divide the pie and not enough about how to grow the pie. That reflects on his time as Ontario Premier, but for most of the period of my NDP support I didn't care if NDP ideas were completely pragmatic. I thought that business interests were more than adequately represented by the PC and Liberals, and I wanted the NDP to be a special interest group for the people. Back in the days that we had three parties I thought it worked out well that the NDP was the 3rd party, but I wanted them to have a stronger voice.
There were several hiccups in my support. I was never comfortable with the NDP's emphasis on unions; not being a union member, I found it difficult in meetings and rallies to cheer for unions above all, and frequently found the union position to be sexist. I was very upset with Broadbent's 1988 decision to go after a few Liberal seats rather than oppose Mulroney's free trade agreement. In 1995, I saw Alexa McDonough's federal leadership defeat of Svend Robinson as the triumph of politics over ideas, and felt she used her time in Parliament too much for knee-jerk government bashing and not enough for representing the interests of the people. (This may or may not have been true about McDonough; she and McLaughlin were both given inadequate media time so it was difficult to know what they were trying to do.)
And then of course there was Bob Rae's election as Ontario Premier in 1990. When the full understanding of the Ontario deficit and the recession hit, I agreed with him that the government had to reduce spending. I (along with almost everyone I knew) was laid off in 1990-91, so I felt viscerally that the government must support the unemployed as well as the employed. The NDP base demanded that the government support only the unionized. I had several friends who found jobs and were laid off again two or three times during that recession, and I and many of my colleagues have never fully recovered our careers. This was the second major recession in my working life, and I was appalled that the rank and file of my party seemed to be solely concerned about maintaining wages for civil servants. The attack on Bob Rae was vicious and totally out of proportion: "Wanted" posters appeared on telephone poles all over Toronto showing the pictures of NDP MPPs who supported Rae's social contract, pledging to vote them out of office, and Rae was regularly booed in public meetings.
In the 1995 Ontario election I found myself canvassing for an NDP candidate in downtown Toronto with the instruction to say that the candidate didn't support the leader of her party and Premier of the province. It was a depressing experience. I was glad to have moved to another country by the time the election occurred, and not terribly surprised that the NDP fell from a majority government to a single-digit percentage of the popular vote. I felt very strongly that Bob Rae had done a stellar job as Premier and that I couldn't support a party that repudiated him for governing for all citizens and not just his political base.
When I moved back to Canada in 1997 I was on the fence about the NDP, first as a strategic voter between the NDP and the Liberals, and then as a Liberal supporter. I worked for Liberal candidates in Ontario elections but might have gone back to the NDP federally had the party of ideas not become fully supplanted by seats-at-all-costs, knee-jerk government bashing. When Layton was elected I thought he might bring a spark back to the party, but he hasn't. Layton's latest move to facilitate the election of Harper is a final nail in the coffin of my NDP support.
There is an upside to all this for me. Since I have moved to the Liberals, I have discovered that I feel much more comfortable in this party than I ever did in the NDP. I support a strong central government; the best social programs we can afford; fiscal responsibility to create a healthy, stable economy and make social programs possible; and strong regulations to protect people, the environment and our culture from the injurious effects of free enterprise. I want to be in a party that is creative and pragmatic. Furthermore, I want to be in the fight against the Conservative-Bloc determination to gut the federal government and to give away Canadian sovereignty to the United States. The NDP has chosen to stand on the sidelines, attacking the Liberals in the hopes of picking up a few seats instead of working on the real issues. In 2006, the Liberals are the only party who are effectively standing up for Canada and for social programs.