Volume 96, Issue 66
Tuesday, January 28, 2003

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EDITORIAL

The new look of the federal left

When it comes to political leaders, the "substance" versus "style" debate has become a fixture in our media-saturated culture.

This past Saturday, the New Democratic Party of Canada elected Toronto city councillor Jack Layton to lead them into the next federal election.

Layton's convincing first-ballot victory – he garnered 53.5 per cent of the total vote – demonstrated the party's clear desire for a fresh face. Surprisingly, 24-year veteran Member of Parliament, Bill Blaikie, finished a distant second.

Since entering the NDP leadership race, Layton has caused a stir among party faithful. His ever-present grin and flamboyant political style spawned a media fascination that an NDP leadership candidate – or leader for that matter – has not enjoyed in years.

It seems many NDP faithful decided to go with the promise held in Layton's pearly whites, as opposed to handing the party's reins over to a longtime, respected NDP parliamentarian such as Blaikie.

Whether the party's decision to choose style over substance pays off electorally, remains to be seen. After being mired in mediocrity for over a decade, it would appear the NDP have little to lose.

Some political observers may remember the "new," "flashy," supposedly media-friendly leader of another Canadian party. His name was Stockwell Day, and his memory likely still makes many card-carrying members of the Canadian Alliance party wake up in a cold sweat. In the world of federal politics, it's not a long leap from "flashy" to a flash-in-the-pan.

Perhaps Layton is more than just a bright newcomer. He does have years of experience serving on Toronto's city council and built himself a national profile as president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.

However, Layton can grin until his mouth falls off, but that doesn't change the fact that the party he has inherited faces daunting hurdles. Scraping it out for the 12 seats required to maintain official party status each election just isn't cutting it

For the last 10 years, during an era in which conservative politics dominated provincial and federal politics, one wonders why Canada's left has floundered in electoral obscurity.

A wide policy vacuum exists between the Canadian political centre and its far left – the NDP have a lot of options, if Layton can push the right buttons.

Recently, the NDP has suffered from a lack of media awareness. They could have been holding press conferences in which their leader was lighting themselves on fire, or planning on growing a second head, and the country's media wouldn't have batted an eye.

Maybe Layton's "style" will change that. Unfortunately, you can have some great ideas, but you need to find a way to make people listen to them.

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