What constitutes a progressive political party?
This question is a difficult one to answer in today’s political climate. In Saskatchewan, the New Democratic Party likes to portray itself as progressive and the Saskatchewan Party as conservative. The Sask Party, on the other hand, portrays itself as progressive and the NDP as lunatic radicals with no brains.
But with the current debates going on around university funding, royalties, and any number of other major issues facing people in Saskatchewan, it’s not really a true portrayal of what the parties are actually doing. If you look at who is driving the political debate, it’s not the supposedly progressive forces on the left of the spectrum. It’s the supposedly conservative forces on the right of the spectrum that are making the change and driving the “progress” while the NDP is left playing catch-up.
Don’t get me wrong though; calling the Sask Party a progressive a force in Saskatchewan is not accurate in the least. It is actually a regressive party that labels its backwards policies as progressive. They talk about building the future of Saskatchewan by eliminating most of the social programs and regulations that were gained over the last several decades. They have a vision for what our province can be, and as noxious as that vision is, they sell it really well.
The NDP’s response has not been terribly proactive. In many cases, the platform that the NDP runs on is a protection of the status quo in reaction to threats posed by the Sask Party. The NDP, with its determination to protect the many things that the progressive movement has gained over the last century, becomes a small-c conservative force in the political discourse – always advocating keeping things how they are and only proceeding after careful review of all the facts.
The status quo is certainly comfortable for many people in Saskatchewan, but sometimes when people are looking for change, they will take the only change offered to them regardless of if it is good or bad. In the last provincial election, aside from Dwain Lingenfelter being a black-hole for charisma, the NDP had huge difficulty presenting a positive vision of the province, being forced to argue on a few lacklustre policy points about a tuition freeze while they did more research into university funding and a stop-gap rent control plan that would only modestly help the housing crisis Saskatchewan is currently experiencing.
Am I suggesting that we should not look at all the facts when we advocate change? Not at all; the best policies are going to be informed by a lot of research. But anyone looking to make positive change to our province needs to act confidently, unencumbered by mountains of facts, figures, and huge amounts of caution. They need to speak and act decisively and proactively so that the political battle is held on a field of their own choosing, not on the battlefield chosen by their political opponents.
“The NDP, with its determination to protect the many things that the progressive movement has gained over the last century, becomes a small-c conservative force in the political discourse – always advocating keeping things how they are and only proceeding after careful review of all the facts.”
And sometimes, parties need to advocate for things not because they are totally logical, but because they are the right thing to do. There’s no government profit to be made in providing universal healthcare, but we as a society do it because it’s wrong to let someone die because they don’t have enough money to pay for medical services. Sasktel was created by the government to provide telephone service to the scattered small towns of our sparsely-populated province because no service provider would invest the huge amounts of capital required to build a functioning phone infrastructure, but we did it anyway because providing a quick means of communication between people was the right thing to do.
Rather than advocating that the Sask Party doesn’t make huge and damaging cuts to all the programs we enjoy in this province, it might be a better course of action to proactively advocate for an expansion of those programs, even outside the election cycle. Before the government has the opportunity to cut funding to university programs, the NDP should be advocating that that university funding be increased even more. Instead of advocating that the government freeze tuition, the NDP should be demanding that tuition be eliminated entirely. Maybe those things won’t be deemed feasible, but they are the right things to do and they will put the people that advocate the opposite on the defensive.
This is by no means a phenomenon isolated in Saskatchewan. At the federal level, the most radical force out there is not the NDP, but the Conservatives. We can only hope that with the NDP electing a new leader soon provincially and the federal NDP having the largest seat count in their history, they will break the chains of prudence and actually become the progressive force they claim to be. But I am not going to hold my breath.