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As the New Democratic Party and the federal Tories struggle to make it in one piece to the starting line of the next election, there is much that is deceivingly similar in their predicament.
Both have been sitting at the bottom of the polls for months, a fate that has turned them into tempting prey for stronger foes who have taken to picking away at whatever remains.
Indeed, although the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance have yet to come up with a catch that would qualify them as big-game hunters rather than small-time poachers, Parliament Hill might as well be a jungle these days.
But when all is said and done, the case for salvaging the NDP is the more compelling. There will be more to miss if it disappears. It is also easier to think of a purpose for the NDP than for the PCs - even in a diminished capacity - after the next election.
By now, the rationale for the survival of the Progressive Conservative party has become a triumph of emotion over reason. Old loyalties, the comradeship that comes from past battles fought side by side and common memories of glory days gone by are the last ties that still bind the embattled Tories.
While that may work for the party's shrinking establishment, it does little for the conservatively minded voter who is looking for a force strong enough to topple the Liberals.
Over the past seven years, the Tories' ideological space has come to be inhabited by a like-minded invader.
The infusion of more Tory blood in the Canadian Alliance and its electoral need to widen its appeal have already started to soften the edges that distinguished Reform from the PCs.
The just released Alliance election platform speaks loudly to this reality.
And so increasingly in the Tory case, the pertinence of having two parties fighting for space that one could cover just as adequately and certainly more productively is bound to be raised.
To argue, on the other hand, that the Chrétien Liberal party has made the existence of a left-of-centre NDP irrelevant is a more difficult proposition.
If there was an era when the Liberals were inclined to borrow ideas from the NDP, it is long gone.
Under Jean Chrétien, the Liberals have become more like Tories, a trend that would likely be accentuated if Paul Martin ever took on the leadership of the party.
That doesn't mean the Liberals can't or won't squeeze the NDP off the map in the next election. But they have no plans to use the policy route to achieve that. Rather, they are hoping that fear of the Alliance will drive New Democrats into their wide open but quite empty arms.
Liberal claims policies are generated by activists
At a public forum on strengthening Canadian democracy held in Ottawa a few weeks ago, a senior Liberal opined that his party was a great vehicle for those who are driven to social change because, as he put it, its policies are generated from within by Liberal activists.
But when he was asked why, if that is the case, the plan for a national day-care program has vanished from Chrétien's radar screen, he rambled on about how impossible it is to get federal-provincial agreement for such a plan.
By those standards, Canada would never have had medicare. But neither is it likely that program would have come about had it not been for the existence of a left-of-centre voice independent of the Liberals.
Despite its lacklustre policy performance, its hostage-style mentality toward union bosses, its passé rhetoric, the NDP remains the sole occupant of a section of the political spectrum that speaks to a larger share of the Canadian mainstream than its current standing would indicate.
Indeed, if one party were to use the Trudeau vision to score points in the next election, it should be the NDP, not the Liberals. Only it could shame Chrétien about his stilted performance on the score of social justice, bilingualism, etc., with some semblance of credibility.
As things stand today, the best case scenario for both the Tories and the NDP is that they will emerge from the next election with the dozen or so MPs that would allow them to continue to qualify for official party status in the next Parliament, but with not much more.
What the purpose of a handful of Tories would be in those circumstances is highly questionable.
But in a minority parliament, there would be merit in having an NDP presence, as modest as it might be, if only to keep Prime Minister Chrétien focused on the Trudeau vision he has suddenly so conveniently rediscovered.
-Reprinted from The Toronto Star