Sunday, April 24, 2005

Don Laytone

If you think about it, you can't really blame NDP leader Jack Layton for offering to throw a lifeline to the sinking Liberals.

The New Democrats have been a force on a provincial level, especially in the West. But on a federal level they're only now recovered from the debacle of 1993, when they lost all but half-a-dozen seats and lost their party status. And in spite of their positioning as a party to park a protest vote, the "first-past-the-post" system of voting may result in the NDP siphoning enough votes from the Liberals to elect Tory MPs.

But with the threat of a Tory federal government, Layton has found himself in an enviable position. He can make the Liberals an offer that would be very difficult to refuse: confidence support in exchange for ... well, a few favors.

Removing a corporate tax break? For now, a small price: the corporations were getting along fine without it, so they won't miss it. But there are other pieces of the NDP platform that Don Laytone may ask his new friend to consider.

There are a number of bills (listed on the NDP website) that would make accountants at Finance Canada cringe, but would benefit from Liberal support. Some will almost certainly provoke an outcry from Canada's corporations: adjusting patent protection for drugs, for example, would be a headache for pharmaceuticals, even if it is a break for people buying a prescription. But they're doable -- with Liberal support.

Don Laytone is envisioning a return to the glory days of the federal New Democrats: the Liberal minority government of 1972-74, when the late David Lewis become consigliere to Pierre Trudeau. Those were the days then the NDP wielded power and influence, from the creation of Petro-Canada to pension indexing. Those days earned the New Democrats a level of political respect from Canadians that still survives to this day, albeit in a smaller amount.

Of course, in those days the Bloc Québécois didn't exist, and that gang could be a problem for Don Laytone since if they aligned with the Conservatives they could still defeat the Liberals on confidence matters. However, since many BQ members are left-leaning in their politics anyway, a sort of accommodation may be possible.

Now, of course Don Laytone can't guarantee that the Liberals would stay in power. But the current situation--a crippled government with a weak leader--is Don Laytone's best opportunity to wield influence on the national stage. So you can't blame him for taking that chance.

Of course, Liberal backbenchers may want to keep an eye open for dead horses ...