NDP’s Time to Shine? The Rising Orange Tide
Twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable, but it now seems that the New Democratic Party (NDP) has a viable chance to become the Government of Canada.
Indeed, the NDP has shown Canadians that it is more than a fringe party by attempting to represent the interests of unions, families, and those concerned about social welfare.
Under the leadership of the late Jack Layton, the ‘Orange Wave’ swept across Quebec in 2011, leading to the loss of official party status for the Bloc Québécois. The NDP affirmed its Québécois credentials by recruiting numerous popular Francophone politicians (regardless of their voting record on separatism) and a concentrated (and occasionally humorous) media campaign.
The wave swept to Alberta earlier this year when Rachel Notley, head of the Alberta NDP, took 54/87 of the seats in the Alberta legislature. She campaigned on a platform centered on raising corporate taxes and reinvesting the money in education and healthcare services—a platform that marked a complete opposite approach compared to the incumbent administration’s policies. This sort of political momentum is impressive and shows no immediate signs of decline.
However, the NDP inspires optimism based on more than a string of political victories and the attention they have garnered this election season.
Polling conducted by institutions ranging from Forum Research to Abacus Data have shown the NDP leading for roughly half of the time since Harper called the election—with leads as significant as 11 points (although this was admittedly earlier in the campaign season). When the NDP trailed behind, it was never by more than 3 points.
From the polls it seems the NDP has positioned itself as the ‘ideal alternative’ to the incumbent Conservative‘s, using both its recent victories and the shortcomings of its political rivals.
Although some refer to the Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party”, they suffered their worst loss in the 2011 federal election, receiving only 19 per cent of the popular vote and 34 seats in the House.
The results were due to a series of disastrous televised debates, attack ads, and a lazy complacency in reaching out to key segments of the voting population. Under Justin Trudeau the Liberals have climbed in the polls, but there are many who feel that they have failed to appeal to Canada’s middle-class on issues ranging from access to social programs, promoting economic growth, and counter-terrorism.
Though improved, the Liberal Party has its faults. Many Canadians (perhaps fuelled by Conservative attack ads) feel Trudeau lacks the political/professional experience necessary to lead the country. Additionally, the Liberals have failed to renovate their grass-roots fundraising system in an election year where the NDP has seen major financial growth and the Conservatives have maintained the sophisticated network that paid off in the 2006 and 2011 elections. Therefore, the Conservative Party is arguably the main obstacle to an NDP government.
“… the Conservatives are the main obstacle to an NDP government.”
They are well-funded, have perfected the art of “hyper-segmentation” (targeting specific segments of the voting population based on relevant issues), and have a natural advantage that comes from being a moderately popular incumbent government.
However, the political context that resulted in the Conservative’s victories has changed considerably.
Much of the Conservative appeal after the initial 2006 election was based on the party’s ability to market itself as financially disciplined with policies that would develop conditions where businesses could create jobs. Citizens tend to vote for right-leaning parties in times of economic crisis, which further strengthened the Conservative stronghold on the House of Commons.
With resurgent issues in the Canadian economy, the Conservatives have made a new push for socially conservative policies surrounding immigration, privacy, security/policing forces, and counter-terrorism operations.
Although this may appeal to key Conservative demographics, it risks isolating moderate voters who could be taken in by the NDP’s message that Canadians are “ready for change”.
For the NDP this is an unprecedented opportunity to become the Government of Canada and change how political parties view and discuss social issues and programs with the public.
The next election will be big, so make sure you go out to vote.
James Omran is Co-Opinion Editor of Juris Diction. He is currently in his second year at Queen’s Law.