12.01.2014 05:20 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: courage and the NDP

“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 They have been replaced by Justin Trudeau (who is no Ignatieff), and Tom Mulcair (who is no Layton).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.


  1. davie says:

    Here in BC (western most province in Canada) we had the provincial melt down to learn from. With a clever mix of half truths, innuendo and last minute allegations we just might be able to link both the federal Liberals and the federal Conservatives with the BC Liberals.

    Then, what are we going to do about Ms May and the Greens?

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I tend to refer to Justin’s problem in Quebec as the Justin Juxtaposition: on my immediate right is Justin Trudeau, liked, loved and even adored in Quebec. To my left is Justin Trudeau, disliked and perhaps hated in some quarters in Quebec — because of that surname and its historical record, courtesy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

    That’s the challenge and political reality in Quebec that Mulcair may be counting on to hold the fort against hordes of Liberal barbarians.

    • Reality.Bites says:

      You know, over 5 elections Pierre Trudeau won 85% of the seats in Quebec.

      Mulroney did nearly as well over 2 elections, with 80%, but he spawned the BQ, so Chrétien only won 36% of Quebec seats over three elections. Martin only managed 23% and Harper 11%. (For Martin and Trudeau I’m also including the elections they lost, for Harper only the elections he won)

      If Quebecers hate Trudeau so much why does he have the winningest record in Quebec by a comfortable margin?

      Now I know a lot of pundits and opinion leaders hate him. These are the people who insisted Justin couldn’t get elected in Quebec as an MP. But he did. I will be shocked if Trudeau wins fewer than 30 seats in Quebec. And I believe up to 60 are in his grasp.

  3. corey says:

    One more problem was revealed in a recent poll of Quebeckers: a strong majority said they thought Trudeau had the better chance of beating Harper. And a strong majority said they would vote for the party with best chance of removing Harper. So if the rest of Canada goes Liberal…. I would expect Quebec will follow. And it will be ugly for the NDP…

  4. terence quinn says:

    if the mood in Quebec is a highly charged anti Harper vote, which it could well be, the Libs will be strong beneficiaries of that. If the Libs play that hand smartly theY could destroy the conservatives from Newfoundland right to the Manitoba border while picking up a smattering of seats in the prairies and a decent number in BC.

  5. Chris says:

    Let us not forget that Douglas’ words were an homage, ie. theft, from Tennyson’s 1833 poem Ulysses which had the lines: “… Come, my friends, ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.” This is is the same poem that RFK referenced when announcing the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

  6. ottlib says:

    Looking at the NDP polling trend in the ROC you will note that they have been slowly fading down to their historical levels or a little lower. The trend is moving towards the election in the ROC being a two party race between the Liberals and the Conservatives with the NDP becoming increasingly irrelevant. This trend has been hidden in the national polling data for the NDP by their continued strength in Quebec but it is there. As well, the results of all of the by-elections, taken as a whole, would seem to provide us with circumstantial evidence confirming the trend.

    This presents a couple of problems for the NDP and a problem for the Conservatives as well.

    For the NDP, first and foremost, they now have the problem of having to depend on voters who have historically proven to be very unpredictable, none more so than the last three times they were asked to go to the polls. The Orange Wave of 2011, the rise of the CAQ during the Quebec election a few months later and the surge of the PLQ to a majority government a few months ago came as a surprise to the pollsters, the pundits and the politicians. All of those results were not any anybody’s radar when the writs were dropped for those election and they only began to be seen just days before each election day.

    The recent proclivity of Quebec voters to do the completely unexpected must be causing a few sleepless nights for the Quebec strategists of all of the parties. However, for the NDP it is becoming increasingly apparent that the path to hanging on to Official Opposition status, let alone winning government, runs through those voters. Not an ideal situation to be certain.

    The second problem for the NDP is a two way race in the ROC could see them frozen out of many regions of the country, resulting in substantial losses of seats for the party.

    There is a possibility that the NDP could find themselves in a bloodbath during the next election, if the trend in the ROC holds and the Quebec votes shifts away from the NDP. This would be a worse-case scenario for certain, by no means the most probable outcome, but the possibility is there.

    The problem for the Conservatives is they do not want a two-way race in the ROC, particularly in Ontario. Most of their urban and suburban seats were won by the splitting of the progressive votes in those ridings.

    If the progressive vote, pushed by a strong anti-Harper sentiment, coalesces around the Liberals in the ROC and Quebecers surprise us again during the campaign a strong Liberal victory, similar in proportion to the 1993 victory, is a possibility.

    Again, such a result would be a worst-case scenario for the Conservatives and the NDP but the possibility is there.

    • monkey says:

      Generally agree, although on the 905 belt, I don’t think splitting of progressive votes is really an issue as we saw with the Whitby-Oshawa by-election. The NDP has never done well here outside a few ridings. The real question comes down to the Liberal-Tory swing vote which is quite large here and which party they swing behind, not how well the NDP does. If Justin Trudeau comes across as competent and not too left wing he has a very good chance of winning big here, but since this area likes to go for the devil they know, he needs to be careful not do anything stupid. Also winning both the left leaning downtown core and outer suburbs is doable but difficult. Wynne did this because Hudak was unknown and scared both progressives and moderate Conservatives alike much like Harper in 2004. Harper is known so this won’t work thus he needs to find an issue that Harper is very unpopular amongst both or a non-ideological issue that sells well with both (I am thinking probably on building infrastructure would be the best bet as this reasonably popular amongst people on both sides of the spectrum since unlike issues like daycare most on both the left and right see this as legitimate government duty).

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