Go. Read. I'll wait.
One of the earliest votes I ever cast was for Bob Rae (my very first was for John Sewell, I'm proud to say). I did it partly to piss off my very conservative dad, but mostly because I believed, and still believe, in most of the policies and ideals espoused by the New Democratic Party of Canada.
The sticking point for me, and especially after Bob Rae's rather rocky stewardship of Ontario, has been the implementation of those ideals.
As reported in Rae Days, columnist Thomas Walkom's informative book, one of Rae's closest advisers, David Reville, said they had "the passion and the theory. But we didn't have any fu**ing idea how to make things work."
Rae tried to implement the ideas he'd presented during the campaign but the recession was ravaging the economy. He wasn't the only one who misjudged the severity of that recession; hundreds of once healthy companies and skilled entrepreneurs went broke.
That's the first part of Rae's legacy, but he revealed his true political stature once he realized his policies were outdated and decided to do something about it.
That's why I like Bob. He isn't married to ideology, and he learns from his mistakes.
But then there's this:
Union boss Bob White called a meeting with all the NDP premiers to give them their marching orders on how to cope with the economic crisis. As Rae recalls in his book From Protest to Power, White suggested the provinces keep spending; if they couldn't pay their debts, they could declare bankruptcy "like the Reichmanns." Roy Romanow, the then premier of Saskatchewan, led the charge against White along with Rae. "After that exchange," Rae writes, "there was nothing more to be said."
And that's another sticking point for me.
I support the labour movement on general principles. Workers' rights, fair wages, all that. In practice... well, I have heard too many tales from too many friends and family who are union members to have many illusions about the benefits of most modern unions.
One fundamental question for me is this: at what point do the interests of the Big Labour unions coincide with those of the corporations that employ their members?
One example in my own neighbourhood is Loblaws. Some time in the mid-nineties, Loblaws decided that they were facing an imminent threat from Wal-Mart, which had been opening grocery sections in many of their stores in the U.S. Assuming that it was only a matter of time before Canadian Wal-Marts followed suit, they pressured their main labour union - the UFCW - to accept some pretty draconian measures in order to ensure that their employers could remain 'competitive'.
The result was union employees working for barely above minimum wage, and the near total elimination of full time positions in favour of even lower paid part-time jobs with no security and no benefits for three years.
But of course they still have to cough up their union dues. And their boss is still in business.
I look at that and think about the Canadian Auto Workers Union and wonder: at what point do the short term interests of their union members, linked as they are with the fate of the big auto makers, begin to conflict with the interests of... well, the planet? And what about the oil workers' unions? Or coal miners' unions? Or... ?
To me, this is the fundamental problem with the relationship between the NDP and labour. A union's responsibility is to look after the best interests of its members, however they interpret those interests. As it should be. But the responsibility of a political party or, potentially, a government, is to look after the interests of all of its constituents.
So, what happens when there is a conflict? What happens when what is good for the environment isn't so good for Ford and GM's car sales? What happens when what is good for the majority of Canadians is maybe not so good for, say, the workers in the Alberta oil sands, or the forestry industry?
This concerns me, and I think it is question that both the NDP and the Liberals would do well to ask of themselves, their party and their leaders.
Who do you serve?