Thursday, September 23, 2021

On echoes

Plenty of commentators have pointed out the symmetry between this year's election and that of 2008 in terms of low voter turnout and general dissatisfaction with the outcome on the part of all parties. But it's worth noting the similarities between the two campaigns and their aftermath on the part of the NDP in particular.

2008 was treated as a golden opportunity for Jack Layton and the NDP to improve their standing. But even with the most popular leader among the national parties, a well-run campaign, and seemingly uninspiring or downright self-destructive competitors, the NDP ended up with...a small increase in the percentage of the popular vote due to declining overall turnout; a slightly improved seat count which fell far short of the party's number of targeted ridings and left it in fourth place in the Parliamentary standings; and punditry which questioned Layton's strategy of running for the position of Prime Minister, and asked whether he might have hit his ceiling as the party's leader. 

Sound familiar?

Needless to say, it was for the best that Layton was able to continue applying his experience and popularity to the cause of building the NDP for another election cycle. And any attempt to treat the replacement of a generally popular and able leader as a cure-all is as misguided now as it would have been in 2008. 

Indeed, the next election cycle may well match 2011 as one in which a leader with strong recognition and approval is a particularly potent force. 

The Cons look to be deciding whether or not to push Erin O'Toole out the door for making even token efforts toward moderation. And any review process and leadership campaign on their end raises a real possibility of schisms within the party, an extreme shift to the right which could disqualify them as a perceived alternative government, or the Cons' version of Michael Ignatieff's saviour complex and lack of self-awareness. 

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau's negative impressions figure to be thoroughly baked in at this point, meaning that voters may be primed for change by the next (hopefully non-pandemic) election. Yet unlike some commentators, I'd have to see it as unlikely that he'd be pushed without wanting to leave - or that he'll choose to leave government without pursing another shot at a majority as long as there's any hope of winning one. 

To be clear, there's plenty the NDP needs to reckon with as a result of the campaign. Among others, those include the need for clearer and more ambitious policy (an area where I'll again point out COVID response as an obvious lost opportunity), as well as concerns being raised about a centralized campaign which spent plenty in the pursuit of a relatively small number of ridings, yet had difficulty converting those into seats. 

But the fact that there's room to learn lessons doesn't mean it's time to throw out the work the NDP has already done. And it shouldn't come as any surprise if the path of slow progress leading to a breakthrough is one the NDP can navigate again. 

[Edit: fixed typo.]

1 comment:

  1. Sub-Boreal3:52 p.m.

    Singh - or whoever is leading next time - needs to figure out how to do a better job of dealing with provincial wings whose positions undermine the federal party. Here in BC, it was rather demotivating to see Singh do nothing more than repeat excuses for Horgan's disastrous approach to environment and energy policies. His evasiveness on Transmountain likely had the same effect, but is even harder to understand.

    The meltdown of the Greens will probably be interpreted by the leadership, both federal and provincial, as meaning that there is even less need to pretend to support strong policies in those areas since there is now no obvious alternative for those disappointed in the NDP's positions and actual behaviours in office.

    All of these just reinforce the downward spiral of disengagement, low turnout, and reliance on superficial social media novelty.