Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#elxn41 Primer: New Democratic Party

Banners and signs are waved as rock music plays in the packed hall. The beaming leader, flush with polling numbers that put him in a statistical tie for first place in La Belle Province, shakes hands and speaks of upcoming campaign stops in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories - all places he expects to win seats.

And then, in a moment of clarity, the face of that leader reveals itself...

Oh. My. God.

Is that...?

Could it be...?

That's Jack Layton.

Today's Special: Dipped Nuts
The NDP has long served as the socialist conscience of Canada's parliament - it helped Pierre Trudeau's minority government form the state-owned Petro-Canada in the early 1970s, before helping to defeat that same government and force an election - in which their caucus was halved. Less than a decade later, they brought down the minority government of Joe Clark. In 1993, the party caucus was reduced by voters to 9 seats. And here we are in 2011, 8 years after Jack Layton was elected party leader, and the party sits with 37 seats in a 308-member House of Commons. An impressive recovery, but still a parliamentary afterthought, right?


The NDP's messaging has been consistent. Much like the Bloc in Quebec, the NDP has made it clear time and again that they would work with any party - ANY party - that would bring forward ideas that they believe would benefit Canadians. Of course, these ideas would have to be visible through the orange-tinted glasses of the NDP, but all the same, while political operatives decry this approach as "opportunism" and a willingness to "get into bed with whomever it takes to gain power", Canadian voters increasingly seem to recognize that sort of approach as "co-operation" - the same kind of thing we have to do every day, and the same kind of thing we teach our kids to do. As a result, recent polls show the NDP in a statistical tie with Canada's "natural ruling party", the Liberals, for 2nd place in popular support nation-wide.

The NDP campaign to this point has been focused on 2 main themes: Firstly, that Stephen Harper favours his business and oilpatch friends over ordinary Canadians, and secondly that Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals are absentee enablers of the Harper government's policies. The strategy seems to be working, as voters who in past elections have voted Liberal to "stop the Tories" have seemingly swung to Layton and the NDP, at the expense of Ignatieff's Liberals.

An Ipsos-Reid poll of the leadership attributes of the federal party leaders illustrated how Canadians have come to feel about Layton, the longest-serving leader of a federalist party in this election:

  •  Someone you can trust: Jack Layton (34%, 2nd place)
  •  Someone who will get things done: Jack Layton (27%, 2nd place)
  •  Someone who has what it takes to lead Canada: Jack Layton (26%, 2nd place)
  •  Someone who is best to manage during tough economic times: Jack Layton (22%, 2nd place)
  •  Someone who wants to be Prime Minister for the right reasons: Jack Layton (34%, 2nd place)
  •  Someone who has a vision of Canada that you can support: Jack Layton (30%, 2nd place)

In many of these instances, Layton is at least 10% ahead of Michael Ignatieff. This situation seems absolutely shocking, given the relatively small population of Canada that tends to lean far enough to the political left to be within the NDP wheelhouse. But Canadians are likely embracing Layton more than his party: Here's a guy who a year ago came out and revealed he's getting treatment for prostate cancer, and is on the hustings with a cane because of a recent hip fracture, yet for all the world he seems more energetic and engaged than any of his relatively healthy competitors. He speaks with passion, he's personable, charming, and was the first political leader to appear on the new (right-leaning) Sun News Network. He's got no fear and no quit in him, and people admire that, even if they'd normally be inclined to dismiss his policies or record.
Now, the Layton Love aside, the NDP policy book reads more or less exactly like you'd assume. Big business = bad. Labour = good. Working families. Kitchen tables. Doctors. Trees. Conservative boogymen. They include a costing document, which Michael Ignatieff has since described as "science fiction" - the Alberta oilpatch had better hope it stays that way, since there are almost $9 Billion in increased revenues to the government projected in the NDP plan from corporate tax hikes and what the Dippers are calling "an end to fossil fuel subsidies".  All in all, the NDP platform reads like instructions on how to completely devastate the Albertan economy - a fact that I'm sure makes the incumbent MP for Edmonton-Strathcona, Linda Duncan of the NDP, VERY excited.

But Jack Layton's not running for Premier of Alberta, and the politics of division works fine everywhere you're not targeting. Look at the NDP polling numbers in Quebec and BC, for example.

The notion of an NDP majority government is still a LONG ways off... but if Layton can propel his party into the second spot in a minority Parliament, then (depending on how the other parties fare) he might be one simple meeting away from a rainmaker spot propping up a Tory government...  or the Prime Minister's Office, if a formal coalition could be formed with the Liberals.

Prime Minister Jack Layton.

Don't say I didn't warn you. ;)

New Democratic Party of Canada - Website
NDP Policies
Find your local NDP candidate

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