There are two basic types of political discipline -- internal party discipline and the party's ability to restrain itself from foolish endeavours.
The recent NDP filibuster over the Canada Post back to work legislation puts both types of discipline on display for the NDP.
The NDP did well in managing their rookie MPs, getting everyone into the House when needed, and more importantly had them stick to the same basic speech script. All of their MPs were suitably outraged at those dastardly Conservatives; they proudly announced their solidarity with their union brothers and sisters and told everyone who would listen that they weren't going to be pushed around by Harper and his Conservatives.
Maybe they forgot that empty rhetoric is best saved for the next election some four years from now. Simply put, Canadians wanted their mail and saw the NDP filibuster as obstructive, not constructive.
Why the NDP would pick this hill to die on is anyone's guess. They stood up in support of a union that most Canadians have little use for and by dragging out the process they also succeeded in costing the union's membership addition pay while at the same time angering the voters that just recently sent them to Ottawa.
The NDP is right to be proud of its increased clout in the House, its official Opposition status and the addition of all of its new MPs, but an increased presence in the House doesn't necessarily mean that you have increased your influence at the same time. I think it's fair to say that Jack and company had much more influence when we had a minority government. Perhaps they forgot that all of their election speeches, which focused on making Ottawa work for Canadians, also included non-unionized workers, the general public and small business owners.
An all out filibuster of the type employed by the NDP, is generally a political weapon of last resort that is reserved for crucial debates of national interest, not back to work legislation. One could see it being used for debate on constitutional issues, items such as free trade, dismantling the Wheat Board, major changes to health care or maybe even perimeter security agreements with the United States, and other issues like that.
But having shot their bolt over this particular labour issue, what do they do for an encore?
Are they telling Canadians that they will filibuster every piece of back to work legislation that this Tory government might have to bring in down the road? Just how many voters do they want to alienate?
And while the NDP kept the House of Commons sitting through the June 24 holiday weekend, who in Quebec was listening to them? The very voters they hoped to impress were starting their summer holidays. There were celebrations, festivals and activities all over the province of Quebec where it would have helped to have a federal MP, including federal NDP MPs present.
This filibuster reflects the NDP's lack of experience and lack of discipline at the top. Their rank and file performed well and deserve credit for that, but the key decision-makers at the top need to learn a bit of discipline. Don't always take the bait that the government throws your way and above all pick and choose your battles wisely. There was never any doubt how this one would end and now they have backed themselves solidly into the union corner. They will learn that you can only cry wolf so many times and then the voters will either tune you out or worse still, turn on you.
For the Conservatives they got their legislation through, they ended the Canada Post lockout/strike and they have with the help of the NDP split the House of Commons clearly along ideological lines. Not a bad outcome for Mr Harper and his Conservatives.
Keith Beardsley's political pundit blog can be found at www.atory01.com.
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