Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak
Credits: QMI AGENCY
In two different capitals, the opposition parties have decided to pick fights that take them away from the mushy political centre, into their ideological heartlands and, both hope, into government one day.
In one - the national capital - Thomas Mulcair and the federal NDP are railing about Dutch disease and oilsands development, planting a bright green flag next to the orange one on the hill they're loudly defending.
So far, that decision is paying off. In several polls, including an Abacus Data poll this week for Sun Media, Mulcair's New Democrats are tied or leading the federal Conservatives. Pollsters say their take-no-prisoners, anti-development stance has made the NDP the go-to party for those voters who don't like what Stephen Harper is doing on the environment and energy file, further marginalizing a federal Liberal party still trying to find some issue which it can claim all to itself.
Meanwhile, in Ontario's capital this week, another opposition party laid out a bold policy plank that serves notice that it, too, believes its core ideology should not be hidden under a bushel but should instead be trumpeted from town to town.
The Ontario opposition is, of course, Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives and, this week it fired the first shot in what will surely be a wild fire fight between small-c conservatives and big labour.
The PC broadside against union power is contained in a white paper that, among other things, would make it illegal to fire someone who refused to pay union dues, would relieve employers of the burden of collecting union dues, and would eliminate any restrictions on bids for public sector contracts to union shops.
"Some of the union bosses have used terms like 'this means war' but that sounds very dated to me. That sounds like Depression-era rhetoric," Hudak said. "I think we've got to get with the times."
The merits of Hudak's proposal aside, a "war" is exactly what his party needs to energize supporters and his caucus as it tries to find its footing after a disappointing election last fall.
"I think I did a good job telling people what was wrong with [Ontario Premier] Dalton McGuinty's plan but I didn't do a good enough job telling people what was right with ours," Hudak conceded.
There are other political parties in the country that might take a cue from Mulcair's NDP or Hudak's Ontario PCs to find a big idea or two that can excite core group of supporters and get the attention of voters.
The federal Liberals would be top of mind here but there others. In Quebec, voters seemed initially excited about Francois Legault and his new Coalition for the Future of Quebec, but because he has failed so far to come up with a bold defining idea for his new party, support has waned. In Saskatchewan, the NDP finds itself in the wilderness wondering how to topple Brad Wall. And in B.C., Christy Clark's Liberal Party seems desperate for a big idea that can neutralize both the nascent Conservative Party and Adrian Dix's NDP.
In all those cases, Mulcair's NDP - or Harper's Conservatives, for that matter - may be a good template. Don't be shy about leaving the comfort zone of the centre; tap your party's ideological roots for a big idea, and then stand up and holler about it.