Sunday, November 08, 2015

On definitions

The post-mortems on the NDP's federal election campaign continue to roll in. And it's particularly a plus to see that there will be a systematic effort within the party itself to review the choices which led to the election results - both for better and for worse.

In the meantime, I'll continue pointing out my own view of the campaign with another of the crucial pieces of the puzzle - that being the NDP's handling of Justin Trudeau.

At the beginning, the process of jockeying for position between the opposition options dating back to Trudeau's election as the Libs' leader featured the NDP taking a dismissive view of Trudeau.

That position largely dovetailed with the "not ready" theme presented in various forms by both the Cons and the media - and it might have made for an efficient use of resources compared to trying to develop a stronger unique critique of Trudeau if it had stuck.

But counting on a message largely beyond the NDP's control created risks as well, leaving the door open for Trudeau to outperform expectations merely by memorizing and repeating talking points during the election campaign. And the main opportunities to expose Trudeau's actual weaknesses wound up being either missed or forfeited.

Again, focusing on leadership and betting on Trudeau to slip up under the pressure of a campaign may have represented a reasonable call at the time. But there's no question that it proved a losing choice in the end. And the result was that the NDP entered the home stretch of the campaign without a well-developed core argument as to why voters should prefer their brand of change over the Libs' - even though there was no lack of material available on that front.

By way of comparison, remember the "Ottawa Is Broken" theme which worked so well for the NDP in 2011 as a challenge to multiple parties on multiple fronts with a single core statement. It served as a message of opposition not only to the Cons as the party in power, but also to the Libs as a historical governing party and the Bloc as an entrenched obstacle to change.

In 2015, the NDP's primary message of "Change That's Ready" instead offered little distinction from the Libs - particularly in light of the Libs' own concerted effort to take the mantle of "change".

The end result was that relatively minor shifts in public views of Mulcair and Trudeau (which were entirely consistent with how both had been seen over the previous year) left the NDP vulnerable to losing voters to the latter despite remaining relatively popular with the electorate. And the end result was the late-campaign shift which allowed the Libs to push into majority territory.

Of course, the same issue shouldn't be even a possibility by 2019 when it comes to Trudeau in particular, as no sitting PM figures to be underestimated or left undefined during the course of a campaign. But it's still worth taking away the lesson that it's not safe to hope for any opponent to defeat itself - and that a party should think carefully before letting somebody else take the lead in defining any of its key competitors.


  1. Greg, give it some time. The Orange Fog will clear. Do you really think it was Trudeau's ability to recite talking points that carried the day for the Liberals? It's not so much the NDP failure to expose Trudeau's weaknesses so much as how it exposed its own which were duly noted by the electorate. I'm not sure how "remaining relatively popular with the electorate" squares with the NDP support plummeting by fully half. However if the NDP did hand the LPC their majority (after a decade of bringing Harper to his) then surely you can repeat the favour by going into the 2019 campaign yet again led by Thomas Mulcair.

    1. Some of us paid attention to more than just horse-race polling. On issues, accessible voter pools and leadership favourability, the NDP stayed fairly strong throughout the campaign - and the only people in a fog are those trying to pretend that a late shift in votes should be taken as reason to throw out everything that went into building that base.

  2. The mistake the NDP made was giving JT and the Libs any time whatsoever. The opponent was Harper, and the attacks should have been made on him and him alone.

    Another thing that i as a checkoff donor want to know - where did the money go. The NDP had as much money as the Libs but one would have never known it if one listened to the airwaves, that bloody "I will give more money to the middle class" drove me nuts. So where did my money go?