Musings —12.01.2014 05:20 PM—
“Courage, my friends: ’tis not too late to build a better world.”
The New Democrats’ founding father, Tommy Douglas, said that. It could have been said by any one his social democrat successors, however, in the intervening generation or so. Reportedly, it was the Douglas adage that Jack Layton loved the most.
The second part of Douglas’ axiom is probably what Layton and other New Democrats liked best: building a better world. Who can be against building a better world?
But it was the first part – the part about having courage – that probably preoccupies New Democrats the most, these days. For them, the coming months will require no small amount of it.
Canadian politics is falling back into its historical alignments. Before Jack Layton made history in 2011, and catapulted the New Democrats into the role of Official Opposition, the NDP had always been in third place, federally.
Layton is gone, now, and so too Michael Ignatieff. The two men who were principally responsible for the historic shift of 2011 are no longer on the political stage. They have been replaced by Justin Trudeau (who is no Ignatieff), and Tom Mulcair (who is no Layton). The fundamentals have changed, and multiple by-election results, and successive polls, reflect that: the NDP is slipping back into third place.
Is it too late for the NDP to build a better world? What will they do, to hold onto what they got in 2011? Three things.
The first relates to Quebec, which embraced Layton like no other province in 2011. Shortly after the 2011 election concluded, Leger Marketing determined that about half of the Quebeckers who had voted NDP agreed with this statement: “I’ve had enough of the other parties and I wanted change.” Months later, the party conducted focus groups to see if Quebec’s electorate were having second thoughts.
According to Jack Layton advisor Brad Lavigne, the answer was no. “[They] did not regret their choice,” Lavigne wrote in his 2013 book Building The Orange Wave.
But, with the arrival of Justin Trudeau, do they still feel that way? An Abacus poll released last week suggests they do. “The numbers show the NDP remains very popular in a province where it captured 59 of 75 seats and 43 per cent of the vote in 2011 under late leader Jack Layton,” Abacus concluded. Off the island of Montreal, Thomas Mulcair remains a very serious contender for the job of Prime Minister, Abacus found.
The second thing the NDP will do, strategically, is concentrate on the rough alliance that saw Layton’s NDP add an astonishing 67 seats in the House of Commons. That is, urban voters, young people, new Canadians, francophone Quebeckers and aboriginal Canadians. In 2011, these demographics abandoned the Liberal Party and enthusiastically embraced the Layton NDP. Expect the Mulcair New Democrats, say Lavigne and others, to maintain a laser-like focus on those Canadian voters.
The third objective for New Democrats, says Lavigne and like-minded New Democrats, is to continue to avoid becoming what they came into being to replace: the Liberals. The NDP’s core heartily detest Trudeau and his party, especially lately, and are determined to offer voters a progressive alternative that isn’t simply the Liberal Party with a coat of orange paint.
Will they succeed? We shall see. The New Democrats remain highly competitive in Quebec, and they have spared no effort to hold onto the 2011 Layton coalition. They have also successfully avoided morphing into a Liberal replica.
Mulcair’s problem, however, is this: voters agree with him. They don’t want a Liberal carbon-copy, either. They want the real thing.
And that, as Tommy Douglas might say, is something that will require a lot of NDP courage.