The NDP changes its tune and its colours.

Most politicians seem to be of the chameleon species no matter what their political stripes. The NDP certainly changed its tune once Ignatieff got serious about voting against the Conservatives. Of course now Ignatieff is quiet about that as well. Layton's opportunism does not seem to have hurt his poll numbers but then it has not helped them either. The NDP seems stuck in the doldrums. The only great leap forward in the NDP seems to be that of Gary Doer the former Manitoba premier, who is now busy defending Harper's environmental policy as Canadian ambassador to the US. This is from the Star.



Hébert: For Jack Layton, a year of playing chameleon

Chantal Hébert



For Jack Layton and the NDP, 2009 was a year of greater opportunism than opportunity.

Over a period when the opposition parties took more hits from the ruling Conservatives than they inflicted, his party turned out to be the most resilient.

Unlike Gilles Duceppe, Layton did not suffer the humiliation of losing a party fortress to the Conservatives in last month's by-elections. Unlike Michael Ignatieff, the NDP leader's own members are not questioning his competence these days, or at least not openly.

As a bonus, Green rival Elizabeth May was off the national radar for most of the year.

Layton had spent the bulk of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first mandate on the sidelines but managed to carve out a more central role for his party in the second Conservative minority Parliament. That has translated into more presence in the media.

According to a year-end content analysis published last week by Influence Communication, Layton was the fourth most mentioned federal politician in the Canadian media this year, ahead of most of the Conservative cabinet. The Prime Minister, the leader of the official Opposition and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty took the top three spots.

Taken together though, none of the above adds up to an imminent rendezvous between the NDP and government or even the second-place role of official opposition in the House of Commons.

Two recent polls pegged NDP support nationally at around 16 per cent, within the margin of error of its score (18 per cent) in the last election. That suggests the New Democrats did not benefit in any lasting way from their greater visibility and/or from one of the worst Liberal falls on record.

So far, greater NDP relevance in Parliament is not translating into greater relevance with the voting public. And that may explain why, in 2009, the NDP got away with the political equivalent of murder on the issue of consistency.

First, there was the reversal – on a dime – of the party's long-standing policy of non-cooperation with the Conservatives on confidence issues.

In September, Layton latched on to adjustments to the EI regime as a reason to keep the Harper government in place even more quickly than he had dismissed the more substantial EI concessions of the previous Conservative budget in January.

Then in November, a third of the NDP caucus and half-a-dozen Liberals voted with the Conservatives against the long-gun registry. Ignatieff took a lot of flak for that, in particular in Quebec; Layton increased his share of the vote in a downtown Montreal riding.

Finally, there was the NDP decision to use the purview of the Commons to wage war on the economic policies of Ontario and British Columbia. By campaigning aggressively against provincial plans for a harmonized sales tax, Layton is hoping to ride the wave of populist discontent that attends their upcoming advent.

In the last election, a similar move against Stéphane Dion's carbon tax paid off for the NDP. But it also indisposed a large significant section of Canada's environmental community.

The HST crusade is at least as questionable for it sends a troubling message as to Layton's rather elastic vision of federalism, in which it is apparently okay for the federal government to intervene in, even put a spoke into, the fiscal policies of its provincial partners.

Looking back on 2009, one can only marvel at Layton's ability to surf on the contrary waves that came his way.

He truly seemed to bask in the eternal sunshine of a spotless policy mind.




Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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