NDP par­ti­sans re-en­er­gized and ready to fight

Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION - JOHN GORM­LEY

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.

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