Wednesday, February 01, 2012

What NDP members should learn from the recent Quebec plunge

The bottom is falling out of the support for the NDP in Quebec, as recent polls have shown:

The NDP nosedive in Quebec shows no signs of slowing down.

With a steep drop in support among francophones, the New Democrats are now only one or two points ahead of their main rivals in the province, where more than half of the NDP’s 101 MPs were elected in May 2011.

Two recent surveys, one by Nanos Research for CTV and The Globe and Mail and the other by Léger Marketing for Le Devoir and the Montreal Gazette, indicate the New Democrats continue to bleed support in the battleground province.

The Nanos poll found the NDP to be sitting at 29 per cent support, compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals and 24 per cent for the Bloc Québécois. The larger Léger poll pegged NDP support at 28 per cent, with the Bloc at 27 per cent and the Liberals at 22 per cent.

Though the order of the top three may not be clear, all signs point to an emerging three-way race in Quebec.

If there is a silver lining to be found for the New Democrats, it is that they are still the leading party in both of these surveys. However, the margins are small enough that they are statistically insignificant and a one to two point lead is a far cry from the 20 point edge the NDP held over the Bloc on election night last year.

What lessons should NDP members take from this stunning fall in support? And how should they vote come the leadership vote, if they want to regain support in Quebec and retain their MPs there?

It is most likely that the voters of Quebec expected more from the NDP when they voted in May 2011 than they now see likely to happen. The May vote for Jack Layton and his party was a remarkable change in years of stasis in that province.

The reason behind the Orange Surge:

The most probable reason behind the Orange Surge was a deep-rooted desire by many Quebeckers to force a shift on the federal scene away from the gridlock that has prevailed in Ottawa ever since Harper united the right wing parties, took over the failing Progressive Conservative Party (with a little bit of help from one Peter), and then gained power as the Canadian government.

The Bloc could not prevent that change from continuing. Neither the Liberals nor the Dippers could get their act together and force Harper's party out of power.

And so we have lived with a government that does not reflect the wishes of 60% of the electorate.

And my conclusion is that on May 2, 2011 hundreds of thousands of Quebec voters decided to smash the logjam by a dramatic gesture: turning their backs on the ineffectual Bloc MPs, and giving Layton a chance to unite the left in some way and turf out Harper and his right wing government.

The NDP dropping of the ball:

And since then the NDP has shown an inability to do this. In fact, with Topp seeking to turn the clock back by retreating the the party-of-protest mould of earlier NDP incarnations, and with Mulcair clearly thinking that it is business as usual and relying on the 59 Quebec MPs in his plans to become the next government, the party seems to have missed the whole reason for the shift to them in May last year.

What should NDP members do?

The only feasible course of action for members of the NDP if they wish to regain their beachhead in Quebec, re-elect their 50 MPs, and become a party that does replace the Harper Tories in 2015, is for those members to choose a different person to lead them than either Topp or Mulcair.

The most obvious choice is Nathan Cullen.

He has clearly shown a willingness to think differently, and to work towards achieving the result that the Quebec voters wanted when they surged to Layton and the NDP: the replacement of the right wing, narrowly-based Harper Tory government with a new government in 2015 that more clearly reflects the values and wishes of 60% of Canadian voters.

Cullen has shown that he understands this deep desire to replace Harper, and has come up with 

The Cullen Plan – the only really realistic solution to the split on the left that has surfaced since the May 2011 election.

The Cullen Plan avoids the need for the NDP and Liberal Party to merge. It simply allows the voice of the majority of the voters to be heard in our archaic election system.

And that voice wants a centre-left government; not Harper's right wing one.

So Dippers should vote for Nathan Cullen come March. And if any do vote for other candidates, they should indicate that Nathan Cullen is their second preference.

Because neither Topp nor Mulcair offer realistic hope of actually turfing out the Tories, given what they have said so far in their campaigns.


  1. The #NDP need 2 eliminate the Liberals as an alternative 2 them.

    A fractured left chasing a shrinking pie that does not participate hope lie in activating those unhappy to show up at participate.

    Obama was successful in getting new voters. The left in Canada have failed 2 make their case.

  2. I do not view the Liberal Party as a left-wing or left-of-centre party. It's a party that includes pro-business people who could easily support Harper's Conservatives.

    The NDP will have having a constant debate about whether it should be a left-wing or left-of-centre party.

    The problem with trying to unite the Liberals and NDP into a "Not-Conservative" Party is that the political cultures are very different. It's hard to see the two groups united either formally or informally under a common "Not-Conservative" banner.

  3. Policy-wise, Nathan Cullen is the middle of the NDP leadership pack. He could do well as a leader. However, his suggestion of the NDP and Liberals forming some informal mergers will scare resources away from the NDP.

    Paul Dewar's weak French will cause the NDP problems in Quebec. He may be ready by 2015. However, the NDP needs a leader who is ready now.

    Peggy Nash seems popular with the classic NDPers--especially in Toronto. Will she be able to reach out to non-NDPers in the next federal election?

    Brian Topp is a great backroom organizer. However, he doesn't have a seat in the House of Commons. The next NDP leader needs to get his/her act into gear right away. There will be no time waiting for a leader to win a seat in a by-election or improve one's French.

    Thomas Mulcair defies the orthodoxy of how things are supposed to be done in the NDP. He marches to his own drumbeat to the consternation of others. He is fluently bilingual. He has a seat in the House of Commons. He has had experience being part of a provincial government. I noticed during the unofficial NDP debate in Toronto that Mr. Mulcair chose his words carefully. He was not a microphone hog. He waited for others to speak, and then he took his unofficial turns. Mr. Mulcair will likely maintain the current NDP support in Quebec. However, he will need to demonstrate that he and the NDP will be pan-Canadian. I do think that the next federal election will be fought by the Conservatives as being "We are better Canadians than you are." It won't help if Mr. Mulcair makes the NDP Quebec-centric in focus. Mr. Mulcair will have the ability to reach out to Canadians across the ideological divides if he so chooses.

  4. I have generally been in agreement with you on Cullen and that Topp is a bad idea etc. However, I will say this - 1) the "nosedive" hardly constitutes such a judgement since in reality it is only a few points in a poll less than year into a majority government, 2) I don't know that there is anything to learn except that Quebec voters are presently in a serious state of flux and might land anywhere three years from now 3) the Liberals have the most to gain here because polling suggests that they can come back in Quebec, and 4) there is a question above and beyond simple electoral politics and that is we now live in a poisoned political atmosphere in which the right will do ANYTHING to win including destroy democracy itself and the real problem is how do we wake people in every party to this new and dangerous reality?


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