2005 marks the end of an era. Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the provincial NDP for well over a decade, is stepping down. I can tell you from personal experience that she was a formidable opponent for the government – both Mckenna’s Liberals and now Lord’s Tories. I was a Page in the Legislative Assembly – way back when – and served Ms. Weir coffee as she used her imposing physical presence and booming, authoritative voice to challenge the government with her well researched questions. There have not been many like her in New Brunswick politics. An idealogue. A firebrand. Well liked by all.
However, as I reflect on Ms. Weir’s long career, I think that she along with most NDPers suffered from a vexing disorder – political schizophrenia. She railed against giving financial incentives to UPS for creating jobs but lobbied hard for financial incentives to union jobs at New Brunswick pulp mills. She stood for environmental causes – but cautiously – as she realized that much of her support came from unions – many that work in the most polluting industries.
I think Ms. Weir and the Left need to try and either cure or get under control this unique form of schizophrenia. They fight for good, union jobs here in Canada but cry foul when companies try to place good jobs in offshore countries. To the Left, workers’ rights only matter when there are votes on the line. They fight for environmental causes but take massive donations from unions in the heaviest polluting industries. And my personal bugaboo, they fight hard for jobs in places like Southern Ontario and equally hard for increasing welfare programs such as Employment Insurance in places like New Brunswick. Am I the only one wondering why the unions haven’t been front and centre championing regional economic development? Negotiating into their national contracts new facilities in economically challenged regions? Oh, they have a thousand excuses why they don’t but the bottom line is that if they wanted to push the issue, they could be a major player in regional economic development. But how would it look in Oshawa if they negotiated, as part of their contract talks with the auto sector, a new plant in Moncton?
I would have thought that New Brunswick-born Buzz Hargrove would have led the charge for getting good paying unionized jobs in Atlantic Canada – but I was wrong. There have been tens of thousands of new private and public sector unionized jobs created in Canada over the past 10-15 years and I am hard pressed to find even a handful in New Brunswick.
But then again, I think Buzz suffers from the same malady as Ms. Weir.
How ’bout a new Left? One that respects workers rights in Canada and Indonesia. One that not only supports job creation in the third world but is an active partner working with industry to ensure high standards of practice in those countries? One that does not tolerate human rights abuses in Canada – and in Iraq or the Sudan. A Left that leads the charge against international human rights abuses. One that is for regional economic development. One that works aggressively for more jobs in places like Atlantic Canada and not more welfare.
One that is consistent. One that people could vote for.