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NDP: The party that Jack rebuilt

Everybody's talking about Jack this week. I don't want to take away from the accolades and adulation aimed at his huge political achievements. Because his achievements have been huge.

Everybody's talking about Jack this week. I don't want to take away from the accolades and adulation aimed at his huge political achievements.

Because his achievements have been huge.

But the adulation, while every bit deserved, is being misplaced by people who don't know much about Canada's political history, and particularly about the NDP before Jack.

If you listen too much to what is being said today, and don't remember what was done yesterday, you might think that Jack Layton founded the New Democratic Party and built it out of nothing.

What Jack did was both less and more than that.

Until Jack's Orange Wave swept across Quebec and crashed on the shores of other regions throughout Canada, the NDP was often portrayed as an annoying left-wing rump made up of ne'er-do-well union lackeys.

What Jack did was take the "wing" out of Canada's left, and in so doing, took socialism out of Canada's closet and allowed us to say the word out loud.

Sure, we always knew that Americans viewed Canada (those who were aware that we exist, that is) as a benignly leftist bunch with aspirations to become a real country by adopting their economic enlightenment. We've always known that they attributed the title "socialist" to us . but then, they also burden their current president with the same epithet.

Little do they know.

It was the pre-Jack NDP that was responsible for Canada's universal health care, which Americans variously covet and despise.

No, the NDP never formed a federal government in Canada.

But it was fear from the right that they certainly would one day - unless the socialist horde was stopped! - that forced Liberals to adopt the very social programs that even the Conservatives tread lightly around to this day.

Universal health care was an NDP platform plank (actually, it originally came from the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, which was sort of but not exactly the same as the current NDP) that was strategically stolen when it became obvious that Tommy Douglas's Saskatchewan baby had legs.

Likewise, old age pensioners owe thanks for the gleanings they receive to the pre-Jack NDP - another program instituted by the right (as meagrely as possible) to keep the socialists from taking over.

Tommy Douglas wasn't the

only leftist to wield backroom power over the right.

David Lewis shared power during two of the most productive legislative periods in Canadian history with Pierre Trudeau (a former New Democrat who had defected to Lester Pearson's Liberals) when the latter snuck back into the prime minister's office with the NDP's help, despite having actually won less seats than Robert Stanfield's Progressive Conservatives.

Lewis was followed by Ed Broadbent - talk about a universally respected politician - who in his day had grown the NDP's presence in Parliament to record proportions (about a third of Jack's MP tally).

But how Jack will be viewed through the lens of history will depend on the MPs washed in on his Orange Wave. A lot of them are not just rookies in Parliament, but political rookies. And undoubtedly, some of them will turn out to be flakes. They could kill Jack's party.

But I think back to the unexpected victories of a batch of rookie MLAs when the Socreds collapsed. They had never expected they'd actually have to sit in the Legislature, yet found themselves helping to run the province.

And a few of them, given opportunity and experience, became the foundation of a strong (love 'em or hate 'em) B.C. Liberal Party.

Bob Groeneveld is the editor of the Langley Advance, a sister paper of the Burnaby NOW.