Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On clean slates

Needless to say, last night's election results represented something close to the NDP's worst-case scenario on a lot of fronts: both in terms of seat counts, and losing the seats held by some of the most impressive MPs and candidates in Canadian politics. And I'll comment in future posts on the areas where the NDP will want to take lessons away for future campaigns.

But there's still some opportunity to be found in the identity (or lack thereof) of the new majority government - and it's for the best that Tom Mulcair is planning to make the most of it.

When I wrote earlier about Mulcair's options following the election, the starting point was that we'd likely be in a minority Parliament. But while there's no longer a need to bargain for votes in the House of Commons, there's ample room now to define the issues which will be dealt with - particularly given the Libs' lack of direction and the Cons' impending leadership race.

Remember that the last time the Liberals swept to power, the NDP lost official party status while Reform became the most prominent national opposition voice. And it could hardly be a surprise that a governing party with no defining values of its own pushed austerian policies - and indeed took on the mindset for itself - when the most obvious imminent threat came from the right.

In contrast, the Cons will now have to go through a leadership contest to figure out what precisely they stand for without Stephen Harper dictating their every word - meaning that they'll be in little position to drive a particular policy agenda.

As a result, even from third place in the party standings the NDP should be able to challenge the Libs to follow through on their "progressive" messaging - both through Parliament, and by engaging with the citizens and groups who voted for change. And there's some significant upside in either foreseeable result of a concerted push to set the agenda: the NDP will be able to claim significant policy victories which will keep voters focused on what's possible as a country, and/or it will move toward the next election having eliminated any doubts as to which party actually stands for a compassionate Canada at a point when the details of progressive visions are likely to matter most.

Meanwhile, there's also still room for the public's positive impressions of Mulcair to play a substantial role in the next election campaign. And that goes doubly if Trudeau proves to be less effective in government than as a campaign showpiece while a new Con leader fails to gain traction.

In contrast, any immediate move to change leaders would expose the NDP to the same glaring problems facing the Cons: the lack of a coherent current message, and the risk associated with starting from scratch under an undefined leader.

Given those options, the best plan for now is for Mulcair to lead the way in defining the direction of the next Parliament, and to make sure that the theme of stopping Harper doesn't merely lead to inertia for both the NDP and Canada as a whole.

[Edit: fixed wording.]


  1. Sadly, I don't think so. This is a majority government and the NDP will have a credibility problem if they want to try to use their irrelevance as a chance to be "Parliament's conscience" again.

    The NDP had a decent social democratic platform, but Mulcair lost his advantage (I think) by alienating the grassroots with his purge of defenders of Palestinian rights; attacking Trudeau from the right about deficits (I recognize that deficits are not inherently progressive and that the NDP would have been crucified if they spoke about deficits, but that was no reason to attack Trudeau about them.), nonsensically attacking Trudeau for truthfully saying that lots of wealthy people pretend to be small businesses for tax reason as if he were attacking small businesses himself; and, finally, for defending the idiotic F-35 program.

    All of that nonsense has to end. And I'd prefer it if Mulcair left with it. He wasn't as bad as those glaring mistakes make him out to be, but to me, we're being loyal to someone who lost for us big time.

    1. I don't see the issue being one of loyalty, but one of strategy. I can see a viable plan to push for both positive policy changes and better electoral results with Mulcair; I have a tougher time seeing how we get much done if we're pitched into a leadership race, and it's anybody's guess where we'd stand after one.

      So while I'm all for asserting our importance as members (particularly in making clear policy statements on points where we see the party as having taken the wrong road), I don't see how it would help to turf a respected leader with no idea what comes next.

  2. The Libs would probably be delighted to have Mulcair stay on. In the public eye he's something of a millstone round the NDP neck.

    Then again, Mulcair scored the second biggest win in the history of the NDP, edging out Broadbent in 1988 by one seat. That's actually pretty good if you ignore that he lost 51-seats in the process.

    1. Well, you don't like Mulcair. Actually, at least as leader of the NDP I don't like Mulcair (as an individual human being I get the impression that, unlike say Harper, he's a fairly good guy). But I haven't seen any polling suggesting that the public don't like Mulcair; his ratings were generally fairly high. So while I don't think you could say Mulcair was pulling the party up, I'd want to see some kind of substance behind a claim that he was a "millstone" bringing the party down.

      Still, I don't really see him sticking around and I'll be perfectly happy if he doesn't. Mulcair, while not quite the neoliberal or pure Blair that you've consistently painted him as, is too far right for an NDP leader and I hate his position on Israel. His Liberal roots were tolerated because basically, the NDP owed its sudden major-party status to Quebec and Mulcair was Quebec's guy and the new Quebec wing totally deserved a kick at the can. Fair enough IMO. But he didn't deliver Quebec. So then if Quebec doesn't want him after all, what are we doing with this not-very-NDP guy as leader?

    2. I admit I wasn't fond of Mulcair. He always seemed to be reaching, measuring his next promise by which way he thought the wind was blowing. Everything seemed artificial, calculated on the scales of opportunism.

      We agree that he's too far right for an NDP leader, a weakness that allowed Trudeau's Liberals to capture the progressive narrative. I'm not sure the NDP's Quebec strength wasn't squandered in the party's drift to the Right.

      Canada needs a clear and strong voice from the Left. We'll need that more over the next twenty years than we ever have.

      BTW, I don't "like" most politicians. I wasn't fond of Dion and I thoroughly disliked Ignatieff. In fact I disliked Iggy far more than any dislike I've had for Mulcair. It was enough for me to leave the party I'd supported for 40 years. On that scale, Mulcair doesn't come close.

  3. Anonymous1:50 p.m.

    I like Mulcair and I'd be fine with him staying on as leader for at least until the NDP has a vote on his leadership (they do that at their bi-annual conventions, don't they?) but I don't really see how he can stay around for the next election. He won the leadership because it was thought he'd have a good chance of forming the first NDP Government and also of keeping their gains in Quebec. By both counts, he failed.

    1. There are indeed leadership reviews at NDP conventions - and if there's a time to test the membership's desire to keep Mulcair as leader, that would be it.

      But I'd be careful with the test we're applying to him: he fully delivered on the "chance" to do exactly what you set out, meaning that the big question is whether the campaign's late turn makes it worth starting from square one. (On that front, the NDP moved on from Ed Broadbent after the last long push toward government in 1988 produced a similar result - but does anybody want to argue the NDP was better off for that change?)

  4. The Liberals have a direction. It's called "Up" whereas the NDP direction is "Down" it'll go all the way down in 2019 when after we bring in ranked ballot we'll wipe the NDP off the electoral map once and for all. And Thank GOD for that!