Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Future of Tom Mulcair and the NDP

In the wake of the election the defeated parties are forced into moments of introspection and scrutiny. The reaction can be predictable. Some group within the party who felt maligned and pushed out by the current leadership will declare that they are right all along. "If only they had listened to us!" And then there are those who will instead blame the public for not embracing the party of their choice. The NDP is currently in this position and is questioning its future, its ideology and its leader.

Since the leadership of Jack Layton the NDP has moved towards the centre of the political spectrum. Following the tremendous electoral gains and death of Jack Layton the NDP was left with a political conundrum, would they press forward to try to win power or remain the conscience of the parliament? The battle for the future of the party was embodied in the leadership contest.

In the final, fourth ballot Tom Mulcair defeated Brian Topp 57.2% to 42.8%. But looking at the candidates who ran it is clear that most hailed from the centre-left, not the hard left. In 2011 the NDP was in a different position and ready to be the government-in-waiting. The moderation of the NDP federally was not an aberration. The federal party in many ways was mirroring what its successful peers provincially had done across the country.

Despite many successes and solid poll numbers under Tom Mulcair's leadership the election slipped through the NDP's fingers. I haven't written about this on this blog but the NDP did not lose the election because of Tom Mulcair. I think he had troubles in his first election as leader, but he was building real support across the country. Ultimately it might be the flawed appeal to Quebec that sunk the NDP. I think the campaign assumed Quebec would be in the bank and no part of the platform appealed to voters in that province. One of the most prominent parts of the platform, $15/day daycare, was superfluous in Quebec given that they have $7/day daycare. Then factor in the niqab debate and NDP's hopes for the province eroded dramatically. As the national numbers declined anti-Harper voters fled to the Liberals.

Mulcair holds responsibility for the election, but should he resign as leader?

This isn't a simple yes/no question. If you believe Mulcair should stay on then fine, but if you believe he should leave then you have to suggest an alternative leader. Despite the beating the NDP experienced in 2015 it has a strong presence in Quebec. Who do you propose who can speak French fluently to lead the NDP? Will the left-wing of the party call in Brian Topp to lead them? He currently works in Premier Rachel Notley's office, not as an elected politician. Can the Trudeau Liberals continue to hold onto their gains in Quebec? If the NDP are not there as an active opposition they may revert back to the Bloc.

Surveying the NDP landscape I have a hard time seeing a better candidate to lead the party than Tom Mulcair. He is fluent in French and English, a tremendous performer in the House of Commons, and with real political experience. The real problem is the political position of the NDP. The Liberals were able to capitalize on a popular leader and collapsing Conservative support. The NDP should probably move back to the left slightly to hold the Liberals to account, but frankly they have moved to the left themselves on many issues. Holding the Liberals to their promises should be enough to drive up NDP support, but without a credible, effective leader these benefits will accrue to the Conservatives. Party members will have a chance to express themselves this April in Edmonton. Hopefully they have the ability to look past their anger and ideology and make the right choice.


Jared Milne said...

Very good post, as usual.

It reminds me of the tendency of political parties across Canada, from all parts of the spectrum, to drift back towards the centre sooner or later:

-René Lévesque was cutting spending and angering public service unions a good 10-12 years before Mike Harris and Ralph Klein made it popular elsewhere in Canada, and when they did Lucien Bouchard was right there with the rest of them;

-Bob Rae instituted the "Rae Days" as a means of trying to balance Ontario's books without laying off public sector workers;

-After he balanced Alberta's books, Ralph Klein started putting money back into the system;

-Preston Manning specifically addressed and debunked the idea of abolishing public healthcare in his seminal book The New Canada, instead making the point that we wouldn't be able to keep these programs going if we went broke;

-Peter Lougheed raised royalty rates in Alberta, and created the Heritage Trust Fund;

-Gary Doer introduced a series of tax breaks in Manitoba;

-Stephen Harper, of all people, proposed a cap-and-trade system at one point to address climate change.

You are quite right in pointing out how Mulcair has been following the path laid out by many of his provincial NDP forebears, but I would also add that it is a pattern followed by Canadian governments of all stripes in almost every part of the country.

SJL said...

Thank you, Jared. Our political system rewards moderation, for obvious reasons. I wonder if our professional civil service also doesn't play a part in that as well.