Making the Orange Surge Permanent

[To start, an admission of bias. My political beliefs were imparted when Ed Broadbent stepped on me while I was playing in the aisle of an anti-nuke rally in the 80s.]

What I do for a living is help people understand new ideas and points-of-view in their own language, on their own terms. I’ve built relationships across every sector and between people of every political stripe. (Well, most of them.)

Partnership development is about stripping away preconceptions to expose shared values, then building to common cause. This experience has taught me a few things about how to encourage people to listen to and work with one another.

* If you dig down far enough, most people want the same things. Disagreements are generally limited to process. If this weren’t true we couldn’t all live next to each other.

* People are more likely to consider new ideas from people with whom they already agree.

* Nuance, tone, and appearance drive first impressions. And first impressions control access. You can’t build relationships if you can’t get in the door. Dress the part.

* Fear and uncertainty kill things before they start. Assuage and reassure. Everything is always personal.

* People reject what they don’t understand. And no one understands perfectly right away. Present things in pieces and build understanding over time.

Truisms, sure. But also key to getting things done.

Rightly or wrongly, the right and centre-right is scared of the NDP. Also rightly or wrongly, its reaction to an NDP government will be self-fulfilling. Economic growth – the main area where left wing competence is challenged – will stall under an NDP government because Bay Street will make decisions that cause it to stall. The Canadian dollar dipped on speculation of an NDP government.

This reaction is based on fear, uncertainty, lack of understanding, assumption of disparate interests, etc. The task for the NDP over the next four years is, not coincidentally, to strip away preconceptions, expose shared values, and build to common cause.

And, from the comfort and sheltered pulpit of my blog, my 3-point plan to make this happen.

1.) Frame Everything in Terms of Responsibility

Responsibility, when defined not as obligation but as aspiration, is a shared and unifying value. It’s a universal yet highly personal premise that can underpin bold ideas. Corporations want to honour their responsibility to their shareholders and clients. Individuals want to honour their responsibility to their families and each other. Governments want to honour their responsibility to citizens and the public trust.

As with all words, the meaning of ‘responsibility’ can be shaped and redefined over time. The NDP can build from the language of corporate social responsibility, individual effort, and effective stewardship to unite Canadians behind a shared perspective on what Canada can achieve under an NDP government. The mantle of responsibility will also add an element of gray hair and navy suits to a party currently defined (at least externally) by Birkenstocks, blue collars, and tattoos.

2.) Adopt the Language of Social Enterprise

Canadians believe in the value of enterprise. ‘Enterprise’ evokes hard work, skilled innovation, and earned reward. Values respected by hard-core capitalists and socialists alike. Every sector and political party – or at least those with even a chance of voting for the NDP – can rally behind ‘shared enterprise’.

The sector that wields this language the best is, unsurprisingly, social enterprise. Executives in charge of these organizations move seamlessly from boardrooms to policy tables to protest parades. They’ve mastered the art of expressing social, environmental, and economic objectives in terms that garner support in every context. It’s a near-perfect model for how to communicate across viewpoints and sectors. The NDP would do well to follow their lead.

3.) Recruit More Suits

The value of winning 102 seats and becoming the Official Opposition is huge. The NDP has moved from ideological watchdog to government-in-waiting. That running for the NDP presents an opportunity to wield legislative power means the party can attract new talent and leadership.

And they need to be people who wear suits to work (at least metaphorically). For no other reason than we don’t have any. The opportunity before the NDP is not to aggressively assert its platform. It would be divisive and ineffectual in face of a Conservative majority. The opportunity is to be reasonable, agreeable, and actually compromise. To display maturity and acumen. To use the new profile to recruit capacity from the middle. Then take over the wheel and slowly, over time, permanently turn it to the left.

There are, of course, lots of things that can undermine the recent electoral gains. Irrational, hair-trigger reactions to the colour orange, a very effective and well organized opposition party, a base that often values confrontation for its own sake, etc.

But the opportunity is ours for the taking.


  1. another great post.

    as a fellow NDPer I can say that we got lucky. even the most lofty predictions foresaw seat tallies in the 70s. the majority of seats gained were the result of a last gasp of a tired ideology in Quebec.

    let’s hope that this ‘luck’ isn’t lost on party leadership. let’s also hope that party bosses are mindful of the the necessity to adapt and evolve if the NDP is to get to the next level.

    thanks for illustrating how growing the base doesn’t mean sacrificing values. it’s an important conversation that needs to continue!

  2. From what I can tell, the center of socially progressive but fiscally conservative voters (ie. Cretien liberals) felt abandoned in this election. With a pile of NDP “suit” candidates with fiscal/business credibility running in all those now-blue Ontario ridings, it might be possible to capture that vote – especially if (and perhaps only if) the Liberals continue their seeming freefall into political incompetence….

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