06.02.2015 11:53 PM

In this week’s Hill Times: election 2015 is the NDP’s to lose (and they might)

TORONTO — Knowing the precise moment when New Democrat winners were transformed into New Democrat losers isn’t all that simple.

Was it when first-place Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow — whose victory was considered inevitable by most — had yet another uninspiring debate performance, or couldn’t conjure up anything coherent to say about the city’s suffocating transit problems?

Was it when front-running B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix — whose ascension to the premier’s office in Victoria was regarded as a given — flip-flopped on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, or chose not to respond to B.C. Liberal attack ads?

It’s hard to say. But lose Chow and Dix did, badly. And therein lies a cautionary tale.

In these exciting times, of course — when the Orange Crush is being spoken of once again, and the socialist sky is without a cloud — New Democrats don’t like to talk about losers. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is all that New Democrats can talk about. And that’s understandable.

But reflecting on the sad endings to the stories of Adrian Dix and Olivia Chow — and, before that, Ed Broadbent and Carole James and not a few others — is what New Democrats should be doing. There are more political lessons to be learned in losing than is winning. Always.

Herewith, some things for Dippers to consider.

Justin Trudeau: The Liberal leader peaked too soon, of that there can be no doubt. The myriad verbal flubs, the near-total absence of policy, the astonishing arrogance of his inner circle, the consensus that he “just isn’t ready,” and so on: all these factors have contributed to Trudeau’s current dilemma. No longer can he claim to be the only progressive alternative to Stephen Harper — after Alberta, now Thomas Mulcair can say that, too. But be forewarned, Team Orange: Trudeau seems to excel when he is underestimated. Don’t underestimate him. Patrick Brazeau did, too, remember?

You Dippers: The decline in the trade union movement helped you, it didn’t hurt you: it suggested to the electorate that you weren’t all that radical anymore. So, too, your wise decision to distance yourself from the Sid Ryan/York U. types who love deficits and detest Israel. Stick to the Roy Romanow/Brian Topp formula — balanced budgets, caution, Prairie common sense — and you will be more than a more one-term wonder, as in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Angry Tom: Mulcair’s style — righteous indignation and finger-pointing prosecutorial anger — shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Mulcair was angry about everything at precisely the moment voters were, too. He aligned with the popular mood. But be careful, Dippers: TV is a cool medium, and so is politics, most days. Mulcair is the opposition leader: don’t have him audition in the election for the job he already has.

The research: Innumerable focus groups have been conducted in recent months. Out of these, moderators have distilled the three main party leaders down to their base elements: Harper is “experienced and serious.” Trudeau is “progressive and new.” Mulcair is “serious and progressive.” That is why you are ahead these days, federal New Democrats: your leader can say he possesses positive attributes of the other two guys — but the other two can’t say that, at all. Keep it that way, from now until Election Day.

The media: The Grit boss had an 18-month-long honeymoon, and then he didn’t. Chinese dictatorship, whip out your CF-18, budgets balancing themselves, Ukraine jokes, and on and on: all of those rookie errors, and more, have taken their toll. The news media now agree — Justin Trudeau might be Prime Minister one day — but he shouldn’t be Prime Minister this year, because he isn’t ready. New Democrats need to ratify the Conservative shorthand on Justin Trudeau — because they benefit from it almost as much. Don’t let the media change their collective view.

Will New Democrats heed the cautionary tales of Chow and Dix and others? Will they maintain the gifts they’ve received from Trudeau and the unions and their leader and the media?

We’ll see soon enough. But, for now, Election 2015 is theirs to lose.

(And they might.)


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    AJ says:

    totally unrelated and you may well have seen but is quite interesting:


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    Steve T says:

    The key for the NDP is convincing Liberal voters – at least half, and preferably more like 3/4 of them – to switch their vote. They’ll never get the Conservative voters, small C or big C, to vote for them. So they need a whole lot of “orange Liberals”. Otherwise, you’ll have vote splitting, and the CPC will have another majority.

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      Warren says:

      They obviously got a significant number of Conservative voters in Alberta.

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        Pundits' Guide says:

        Warren, they got voters who had voted PC last time, but how many of those were the “I can’t believe I’m voting PC” voters, who had switched to Redford to stop the Wildrose, and how many were lifelong PC voters. There were some of each, no doubt, but I’m thinking probably more of them former?

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          Pundits' Guide says:

          More of *the* former…

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            Warren says:


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          Pundits' Guide says:

          Yes, that wasn’t very clear, was it. And then I tried to correct a typo, and made it more confusing.

          So, let me try again.

          It occurs to me that if you say “some Conservative voters switched to the NDP in Alberta”, such voters would break down into two different groups.

          The first group, I was arguing, might have been the “progressive” voters who voted for Redford in 2012 to keep the Wildrose out. You recall the video “I can’t believe I’m voting PC… but the Wildrose in scary”, and also Redford’s own ads like “This is not your father’s PC Party”.

          The second-group would then be lifelong PC voters.

          If, as you say, previous Conservative voters had switched to the NDP, which of these two groups were more likely to be the switchers?

          I was hypothesizing that it was the former group in greater numbers who switched to the NDP, even though we also know anecdotally that some of the latter group did as well.

          And, I was wondering what you thought of that hypothesis, based on your knowledge of the Alberta situation.

          The first group sounds more like the “promiscuous progressive” group that Graves describes in his findings. Whereas the second group sound like “traditional conservative voters”, and might have been more along the lines of what your commenter was thinking about.

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            Priyesh says:

            There are also huge numbers of WildRose voters that ended up switching to the NDP *too*. People who were voting for change in 2012, and thought the Wild Rose was more down to earth, less arrogant, more principled and worthy of trust. And seeking those same qualities, were willing to try the Notley’s NDP out in 2015.

            The electorate is more fluid than most people thought possible.

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      Mervyn Norton says:

      Pollster Bruce Anderson at Abacus reported yesterday: “A closer look at some of the demographic patterns suggests that some movement from the Conservatives towards the NDP is happening among voters 60 and older, traditionally a critical bastion of Conservative support.”

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      Priyesh says:

      Not only is the NDP getting Conservative voters… it’s also been frustrating to watch Liberals focus narrowly on so-called swing voters. There really is a new politics that is beyond left and right, and for all the claims that the Trudeau team has it, I keep seeing the same types of stupidity that tanked the Ignatieff campaign.

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      Michael S says:

      Out west switching between NDP and Conservative happens all the time, at least at the provincial level. It now has legitimacy at the federal level everywhere, not just in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

      I’d say that 15% of the western Canadian Conservative vote (the vote that was more anti Ignatieff than pro Harper) will move to the NDP. They’ll never vote for Trudeau. Never ever ever. What they want is an non-elite populist. If Mulcair campaigns well, 20%

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    doconnor says:

    “Olivia Chow … couldn’t conjure up anything coherent to say about the city’s suffocating transit problems?”

    Her plan was coherent. The problem was people wanted a pie-in-the-sky dream that sounded slightly more realistic then the last guy’s pie-in-the-sky dream.

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      Matt says:

      Her PLAN might have been.

      The PERSON communicating the plan wasn’t.

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    Michael says:

    I would caution my NDP friends on reading too much into Notley’s victory. She was the beneficiary of the perfect storm. Federal New Democrats should be asking themselves why Notley went to great lengths to distance herself from Mulcair.

    We are a long way from the election. If you look at 5 months before election day in all of the provinces that have had elections recently, none of the front runners at the time ended up winning. I think this thing is really up for grabs and anyone could take it.

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      EB says:

      I wonder if we are on the verge of that perfect storm? My instinct is that the Conservatives are desperate to focus on Terrorism! Hijabs! Crime!, in the hope that no-one pays attention to the economy.

      I don’t think it would take too much effort to point out to voters that our economy is pretty much in the tank right now. People may start to notice…

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    Rich says:

    “Mulcair is the opposition leader: don’t have him audition in the election for the job he already has.”
    …………..most important political comment of the year…… from any source.

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    hollinm says:

    Notice how the media is now showing pictures of Mulcair smiling. Prior to Notely winning and the so called surge for the NDP he was usually pictured with a scowl on his face. However, there is a risk that voters are parking their votes with the NDP for the time being. It happened to Broadbent and it could happen again. However, if Mulcair takes the plurality of seats in Quebec Trudeau will never be PM this time around. The Conservative support is usually underestimated in most polls. We all know that campaigns matter and Harper is still the top pick for PM. So it will be an interesting 5 mos. before the election.

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    Matt says:

    Personally, I think the national poll numbers are an illusion.

    A big chunk of the NDP national number is a result of surging popularity in Quebec, and a big chunk of the Liberals national number is from Atlantic Canada.

    Trudeau can’t win power without massive gains in Quebec and Ontario, which isn’t going to happen. And like 2011, the NDP will win Quebec, but it’s not enough for them to form government.

    I predict status quo. CPC win, NDP Official Opposition, Liberals third and having their 4th leadership convention since 2006. Although I’m not brave enough at this point to say minority or majority.

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      Bruce Marcille says:


      My interest lies in the post election landscape. Chretien had a hard time controlling the Liberals. Martin. Iggy and Dion had no authority. How likely do you think it is that a party that installed a leader with no powerbase of his own, and little in the way of demonstrated backroom skills, can discipline the regions, captains and interests to continue to support him.

      Hell, even Blatter called it quits. For JT, I figure its leader of the opposition or the door.

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        Kaplan says:

        Ha! As someone who worked for a Chretien-era MP, let me tell you first hand his PMO had no problem, for a long time, keeping MPs in check. You’d be floored with how much intel they had on issues and local stuff. I’d routinely get calls (or worse, visits) from a PMO staffer who was so wired in, there was no way in hell you’d contemplate anything foolish. Yes, Martin did his thing post-2002, but don’t tell me Chretien couldn’t control his caucus. We’re talking iron fisted control for a long time.

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      !o! says:

      This is true, at least in that the current, specific support levels are illusory, but the most recent abacus poll (http://abacusdata.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Abacus-Release-Headline-Political-Data_May2015.pdf) had some pretty interesting numbers about support vs opposition for parties, motivation, etc. I can see large swings between LPC/NDP after the call since so many voters are both motivated to vote the CPC out, and not strongly affiliated with either the LPC or the NDP. A large part of the orange wave last election was the result of voters coalescing around the candidate perceived as most able to vote the conservatives out. I expect the same to happen this election, but with a lower overall CPC support level, and greater number of people voting for change.

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    Priyesh says:

    The question is if Trudeau can do anything to turn it around? It starts with some personnel changes, and then… is it too late? Has he already lost the trust of voters?

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      MCBellecourt says:

      Whatever one’s feelings about Bill C-51, the optics of the Liberals voting in favour of it are bad. People are either too busy or just too disengaged to figure out that the Liberals may have supported the bill to destroy a Harper talking point (“soft on terrorism”, anyone?).

      First impressions matter–and the first impression that struck me about that vote is that people are now saying that Trudeau is just “Con-Lite”. It’s going to take a helluva lot of doin’ to convince people otherwise now.

      Five months may seem like an eternity in politics, but it does well to remember that five months can sneak by pretty damn fast if you have to claw your way back up in the polls.

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    Rich says:

    This is tangentially related; I think Mulcair’s comments in the article below are decidedly non-prime ministerial.
    (Also I’m unhappy with Canadian flags being at half mast in honour of Parizeau.)


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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      It’s called growing up. God, people have short memories. I was in Ottawa in 1987 when Lévesque died and not only did the federal government lower its flags but so did the British High Commission in Ottawa.

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    !o! says:

    This election seems to be gradually, perhaps inexorably, turning into a question asking ‘who will replace the conservatives?’.

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    sezme says:

    On the “Angry Tom” question, I seem to recall a certain Stephen Harper while he was opposition leader was also plenty angry. Then he became Prime Minister and suddenly morphed into Mr. Bland.

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    J Stam says:

    Have the NDP ever won an election that wasn’t based on an angry protest vote?

    I’ve noticed that the NDP regularly overestimate their own political potency heading into elections and misunderstand “support” as guaranteed votes. People predicting a prophetic ascension to power by the NDP on October 19 before we’ve even hit full campaign mode is asinine to say the least.

    Campaigns matter.

    Also, consider for a second the NDP “successes” we’ve seen in the last 4 years. DID voters vote FOR the NDP or AGAINST x,y or z? If the NDP are now being seen as an equal alternative to the Liberals then they’re going to be subject to the same scrutiny. Can they survive the tests of a real campaign based on their own abilities? We have yet to find out. So let’s not pop the champagne bottles just yet.

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      doconnor says:

      When a new party forms a government it’s almost always because of an angry protest vote.

      Even if the last Ontario election the Liberals where reelected largely because of an angry protest vote.

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    Windsurfer says:

    Maybe a few well-placed ads and question marks will turn the tide.


    At the end of the day, there are very few strong leaders in the country today.

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