NDP’s federal fortunes unlikely to achieve liftoff
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/09/2019 (1374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The political winds in Canada have shifted against the New Democratic Party. Leader Jagmeet Singh will face criticism for the party’s poor performance, but the party’s supporters must also recognize that circumstances have not favoured him.
Since its creation in Winnipeg in 1961, the NDP has won some seats at every election, most often in a range between 19 and 37. It usually amounts to a small but significant left-leaning opposition to Liberal or Conservative governments. At one election during the Jean Chrétien years, the party fell to nine seats, but soon recovered to its usual position.
By an odd set of circumstances, the party elected 103 members behind leader Jack Layton in 2011 and formed the official Opposition. The Bloc Québécois was coming unglued at the time, leaving many Quebec districts up for grabs, and the country was preparing to bring the Stephen Harper era to an end.
That election persuaded many New Democrats that their party was on an inexorable march toward a parliamentary majority and the fruits of federal office. It was not. They got rid of Thomas Mulcair, Layton’s successor, when he failed to lead them to that promised land. A similar fate may await Mr. Singh.
Surveys of voting intentions lately put the NDP around 14 per cent, a little below its usual 17 to 20 per cent level, compared to 34 per cent each for the Liberal and Conservative parties. At the end of August, the NDP had nominated candidates in just 175 of Canada’s 338 electoral districts, compared to 332 for the Conservatives and 273 for the Liberals. The June quarterly reports on fundraising showed the NDP had raised $1.4 million compared to $8.5 million for the Conservatives and $5.1 million for the Liberals. The party has been dogged by bad news of incumbents retiring and faithful stalwarts refusing to seek nomination.
This is not an election in which the NDP can hope to repeat Mr. Mulcair’s 2015 feat of keeping the party above its usual electoral performance. The “orange wave” that surged out of Quebec in 2011 has clearly subsided — to such a point that the party lost Mr. Mulcair’s former Outremont seat at the February byelection this year. The party kicked out Longueuil-Saint-Hubert MP Pierre Nantel just in time for him to announce he was joining Elizabeth May’s Green party.
Now that the campaign for this year’s October general election is heating up, the Liberal and Conservative parties are lining up the campaign planes that will take their leaders up and down the country. There will not be an NDP campaign plane this time, because the party cannot afford it and because there is no need for Mr. Singh to appear in the large sections of the country where the party’s prospects are dim.
This is an election in which the NDP needs to keep the flag flying and live to fight another day. If Mr. Singh can elect a dozen MPs from Ontario and British Columbia and a few others from scattered locations, the party should be glad to have been spared a worse fate.
The NDP still has a role in Canadian public life, but it is a small role. New Democrats should focus on playing that role well, as they wait patiently for the next great shift in public sentiment that will once again bring them to centre stage.