Canada has only had two political parties who have governed the country’s affairs and destiny
—the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Just as in the United States, the two-party approach has served our democracy well. Unlike the U.S., however, our parliamentary system leaves more room for the establishment and the sustaining presence of a third party. In Canada, third parties have come and gone, but one has had a persistent role over a number of decades and it is the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The New Democratic Party, created in 1961, was formed from the fusion of the Christian left Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party and the Canadian Labor Congress. By so doing, the new party attempted to enlarge its share of the electorate and appeal to a wider range of progressive views from the political left. Often referred to by its Liberal and Conservative opponents as socialists, the NDP resembles more the social democratic left associated with Britain’s Labour Party and other European countries. Its leaders, generally moderate in tone and policy, have come across as sensible and principled types. While the NDP has never governed nationally, it has been a key player in some of our provinces.
For the first time in its history, the NDP is no longer the third party in Canada’s House of Commons. It is now the official opposition party, and its leader Tom Mulcair could very well become Canada’s next prime minister.
The formerly dominant Liberal Party is embarking on a leadership contest with the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, being touted as the next leader. But a closer look is being directed at Mulcair and the kind of prime minister he could become. Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal minister and deputy leader of the federal NDP, won his party’s leadership race over many long standing and more conventional NDP standard bearers. For some party regulars and stalwarts like former leader Ed Broadbent, it was near heresy to select a recent convert to the NDP.
Puzzling, mystifying. There’s no clear explanation why Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sticking to his guns by refusing to repatriate Omar Khadr—the only Westerner still imprisoned at the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo, Cuba, under terrorism-related charges.
Khadr was only 15 years old when arrested in Afghanistan in July 2002 for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight. Khadr maintains that he did not. After being treated for wounds at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, he was transferred to Guantánamo where he alleges he was subjected to various kinds of torture.
Is it personal? Is it ideological? Are there political calculations that come into play? Is he playing it safe with his electoral base in western Canada by refusing to appear soft on terror?
Whatever his reasons, Harper will now get his chance. The Supreme Court of Canada announced last week that it would expedite the government's appeal of orders to seek the return of 22-year-old Omar Khadr and set a hearing for November 13. Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal of Canada upheld a lower-court decision calling on Ottawa to press for Khadr’s return to Canada. In a statement released by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, the government repeated that it was referring the case to the Supreme Court of Canada because Khadr was facing serious charges, including murder.
The Canadian government stated its case before the Federal Court of Appeal in April. It argued the repatriation of Khadr was a foreign policy issue and that the courts had no business “telling the government of Canada how to conduct its foreign affairs.” It added there was just “a remote possibility that the United States would comply” with the repatriation order.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.