NDP partisans re-energized and ready to fight
In Saskatchewan at least, Canada’s leaky border might not be so porous after all.
On Wednesday, the RCMP announced it had foiled a scheme to smuggle nine foreign nationals into the country under cover of night between points of entry at North Portal and Northgate. In co-operation with border agents on both sides of the 49th parallel, the RCMP took the asylum-seekers into custody and laid human-smuggling charges against a 43-year-old Regina woman.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials later revealed three other people have been arrested in connection with the case — two Canadian citizens and one Nigerian citizen.
Many in this province had been wondering how long it would be before we joined Manitoba as a target for border-jumpers. Over the past few months, the town of Emerson — about five hours east of North Portal — has seen an unprecedented influx, reacting to the tough talk of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened mass deportations of illegals.
Now that we know what we’ve long suspected — that Saskatchewan’s vast spaces and sparse population makes it a good spot to cross the border undetected — we need to take a deep breath and relax. This isn’t the time to fall prey to the hysterical xenophobia.
Recently, for instance, federal Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier has suggested deploying the Canadian Forces to guard the border. Fellow Tory hopeful Kevin O’Leary also chimed in, proposing the use of the “notwithstanding clause” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent illegal border-hoppers from claiming refugee status.
Both candidates are just playing politics.
And while we’re not satisfied with the Trudeau government’s response to the problem — it was aptly described this week as a “government of inaction” by Manitoba Tory MP Ted Falk — we’re not ready to declare martial law just yet.
After all, thanks to the vigilance of the CBSA and RCMP, last week’s human-smuggling plot did not succeed. It would be naive to think every such scheme is doomed to failure, but it’s still comforting to know efforts are being made to stem the flow of asylum-seeking queue-jumpers into Canada.
It’s also important to remember that people seeking asylum — especially those entering via the U.S. — are coming here to find a better life, not to cause problems.
Although they shouldn’t be allowed to circumvent the appropriate channels for claiming refugee status, only the most hard-hearted among us would deny them a shot at the Canadian dream altogether. Those aren’t the values upon which this country was built. It hit me the other day. After years on the political sidelines, Saskatchewan’s NDP partisans are back with a renewed sense of purpose.
Years ago, I wrote a book on Saskatchewan politics that became a Canadian bestseller. Entitled Left Out: Saskatchewan’s NDP and the Relentless Pursuit of Mediocrity, the book examined Saskatchewan’s once natural governing party, the NDP.
Born of the Great Depression, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was elected in 1944 and, though its name changed to the New Democratic Party, it became the dominant political culture of this province for more than two generations.
With the exception of only 16 years, from the 1940s until 2007, no party succeeded in beating the NDP for long.
Anyone audacious enough to topple the NDP was allowed just two terms in office before being swept from power, usually in tatters, discredited and not long for this world.
Just as the 1960s Liberal party under Ross Thatcher fell to ruin, the Grant Devine Progressive Conservatives of the 1980s virtually disappeared.
Although historically successful, the NDP rarely got a majority of votes — only twice in over 60 years has it won an election with more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
By successfully dividing its opponents among two or even three other parties and hitting the ground with an army of soldiers, the NDP was a well-oiled machine with legions of true believers, always ready to knock doors, write letters to the editor and attend protest rallies and demonstrations.
Many of the NDP’s keenest partisans were based in unions, universities, government and various proxy groups of social activists.
In 2007, a tired 16-year-old NDP government, scandalplagued and bereft of ideas, was defeated by Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, a united group of non-New Democrats with a big enough tent to embrace a new and forward looking Saskatchewan.
Since then, the Wall coalition has beaten the NDP twice more, each time with an increased number of seats and higher popular vote.
Beyond a small and largely ineffective rear guard of
NDP hard partisans, many career New Democrats seem to have been sitting out for the past decade.
With the Sask. Party’s recent restraint budget, there has been a torrent of anger as many sectors of the government economy have been put on an austerity plan with pay cuts, departmental restraint and understandable frustration.
More generally, cuts to municipalities, libraries and PST changes are not popular and, to be sure, a lot of unhappy people are making their presence felt.
But while watching the recent protests, it clicked.
It’s like the old days — NDP activists are everywhere.
From the grimly determined senior pictured picketing a bus depot — she was an NDP MLA in the late 1990s — to a flood of familiar yet long forgotten names and faces of NDP partisans writing letters and protesting, an energized NDP base has awakened and believes it has found a point of vulnerability
on Brad Wall.
This isn’t to say that everyone who is upset is a partisan — far from it — but the final clue came with a flurry of indignant letters, all angrily invoking the name of Grant Devine.
For history buffs — especially younger than age 55 — the Devine Conservatives were elected 35 years ago next week. A government that went quickly from highly popular in 1982 to bitterly detested — and which left a significant provincial debt — the Devine government for New Democrat partisans is like a religious relic or talisman, clutched with fervour as if to ward off a bogey man who sleeps under the beds of children.
Now energized by a Saskatoon byelection win and an unpopular budget, hard-core New Democrats are back and partying like it’s 1999.
But the Saskatchewan they’re in today is a different, more confident and resilient place than the NDP remembers.
John Gormley is a broadcaster, lawyer, author and former Progressive Conservative MP whose radio talk show is heard weekdays from 8:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. on 650 CKOM Saskatoon and 980 CJME Regina.