Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What of the federal NDP?

I found a brief news piece I saw today very interesting, I'll quote it in its entirety:

NDP MP Pat Martin says his party must make significant gains in the next federal election or be forced to admit it may never be anything more than a fringe player and end its 46-year existence. Despite a recent rise in fortunes for the NDP, the Winnipeg MP admitted his party has led a tenuous existence, allowing bold policies -- such as calling for free first degrees for college and university students -- to be hidden behind timid language. "So, the result has been to bore people into some kind of a stupor where nobody has any idea what we stand for anymore." A poor electoral result could leave the NDP with few options, Mr. Martin said, including, in the case of a minority government, a merger or coalition with the Liberals.
As I wrote back in December, I don't think the NDP are doing very well at all. Layton was lauded for his "success" of winning 19 seats in 2004 and 29 seats in 2006. However, Alexa McDonough was considered a lackluster leader when she won 21 seats in 1997. That is 21 seats out of 301, while Layton's best has been 29 out of 308 very marginally better.

I tend to blame the NDP's failure on Layton's all style, no substance appraoch but Martin seems to be saying the NDP needs to be bold in presenting its alternative positions rather than timid in fear of appearing too far to the left. He may be right, I am not sure.

The fact remains that the NDP has won seats in every province in Canada except for PEI. Yes, that includes in Quebec and in Alberta. Since 1979, they have represented 76 different ridings. Historical trends show that 2004 and 2006 were "perfect storm" scenarios for NDP gains, yet they managed to return only to their average rather than to the top tier of election results.

Everyone knows that Jack Layton is no Ed Broadbent, but the NDP has been shut out of Saskatchewan two elections in a row while Saskatchewan, as recently as 1997, housed over half of the federal NDP caucus. There is a complete disconnect between the NDP and its traditional supporters and base. The NDP of Jack Layton has one base: bleeding hearted silverspooned socialists and acedemics from urban centres. However, history has proved over and over that these are finnicky voters. They will jump to the Liberals - and have in the past - when the electoral situation is one that could see the Liberals take power in place of the Conservatives. It is these elections which kill the NDP and cut it back to its rural agrarian base. Oh wait, they don't have one anymore. Thanks Jack!

If the NDP don't come up with some bold ideas, it is only a matter of time until they are completely wiped out by a good Liberal election year. I thought that the NDP would be done in the next election but Dion's missteps and seeming inability to connect with voters may have been the NDP's reprieve, but it is only a temporary one.

The NDP, though a party I have never voted for and would not want to take power, has served a very useful purpose in being the conscience for parliament and the incubator of some of Canada's best progressive social programs. I do not want to see it die, but it is in dire straights.

New Democrats should be encouraged that one of their MPs is willing to admit this and they should act.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, we can tell that you're no fan of the NDP! Studying statistics is one thing, but the reasons behind them are something else. For example, the idea that 'bleeding hearts' (?) and academics are the NDP's base is laughable. The NDP has ALWAYS been a 'worker party'. Just look at virtually all their ridings, they are places with high union presence.

A look at last elections results is quite interesting, since although the NDP had a huge increase in SEATS, they did not have a huge increase in the popular vote. However, they did rise by almost 2%.

For the popular vote we can note that the liberals lost 6% of the vote while the tories gained 6% leading to an equally plausible scenario that it is actually the liberal and tory vote that goes back and forth. The NDP popular vote has remained remarkably steady over the decades. Also, many more of the seats were in ontario and quebec, the latter where many had deviated from the Bloc, not the NDP. Was there even a single NDP seat that changed hands?

To parrot my familiar line, what continues to marginalize the NDP is Canada's singularly rotten electoral system. In practically any other country they would have have 60 seats while the tories would have 111 and the liberals would have 92 with the remainder to the Bloq.

THat's a HUGE difference. And as has been noted, in a minority government would give the NDP huge amounts of power, one of the reasons that proportional representation is so maligned. If there were only two parties then no doubt canada would have had a referendum by now.

That almost one fifth of voters support them is no small thing-unless of course you are one of the four fifths. Keep in mind also that it is most likely NDP voters who don't bother to vote because of this rotten electoral system designed in the 1800's. This is easily justified simply by going to look where voter turnout is lowest, typically in poorer areas, the areas that ironically would benefit the most from their leadership.

There is also the number of voters who will pick one of the other of the two main parties simply because they know the NDP doesn't have a chance. While it is true that those who dislike the NDP are the 'loudest' on the net, that by no means says anything about their popularity. During the last election any increase was surprising as the NDP could hardly get any media attention whatsoever, and what press they got was usually quite negative.

Yet if you look at media coverage you will notice that there was a big change from the previous years election, particularly in ontario, where the press was far kinder to Harper than it was to Martin. As I've said before, this is no doubt due to his change of policy on corporate welfare. Now he's really shown his true colours, so I suspect the next election will have even more favourable coverage.

And that is where the tories biggest gain was. So actually the member is being way too hard on his party, although I highly doubt that they are going to 'pack it in' because he said that, and no doubt he'll have a harder time getting nominated and elected next time if he's talking like that. But in politics there are usually 'strategic reasons' behind virtually every statement like that, and who knows what that is in this case.

It's great though that you'll put such lengths into blogs like that.

nbpolitico said...

Umm anon, did you read my post?

I said that the NDP base has shrunk to bleeding hearts and academics under Layton and that that is not sustainable. The NDP base, traditionally speaking, farmers and union workers have left the NDP, under Layton, in large numbers.

As for the electoral system, you can whine about it as much as you would like, however it is the system on the books and the NDP has the proven ability to win in 76 seats - nearly one quarter - and if they did win that many seats, they would be in a position to change the system.

The problem is not the system, the problem is the NDP. The system is by no means perfect, but the NDP has won many many more seats under it before and I would argue could again.

Anonymous said...

Well, Tommy Douglas (on principle) joined with Trudeau in order to make sure the Conservatives didn't win to protect social issues.

Problem with Layton is he still in the protesting 70's and hasn't moved on.

They should have picked Bill Blaikie who is respected by all parties. He also doesn't get involved with the trash and bash and blame some one else rhetoric.

It was a mistake to pick Layton, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I read it. Let's compare it with, say, 1974, the time of Ed. In Saskatchewan they did have TWO seats, thats two more than zero, but hardly anything to hang any kind of theory on. Their popular vote dropped in saskatchewan by six percent, that is substancial and worth looking at, but once again, its hardly the case that they've been abandoned. And that was just last election so we can easily attribute that simply to the strength of Harper.

The 'rural' vote is increasingly turning to marginal issues like gun control and gay marriage, which the tories pander to.

In Manitoba there is absolutely no difference at all between the two years, 74 and 2006. The popular vote is virtually identical and like then they picked up two seats. Ontario and BC have traditionally been their stronghold, once again it is mostly union ridings that hold them.

So I don't see any grounds to say that layton or current NDP policies have changed their demographics. Apart from a drop in Saskatchewan I don't see it. They still have higher than their national average in the prairies, so its hardly shrunk by that much. But the NDP has never been that strong in the prairies, provincial and federal politics are very different in the prairies.

In PEI, like NB they are practically non existent. Even provincially they are hardly even around in PEI. In NB people make a lot about the fact that they happened to win a riding. That's mostly an anomoly, for one thing, if you go look at the elections act where spending is listed, you'll notice that the NDP actually spent more money than the other parties in the riding.

More importantly, it is the press, namely L'acadie Nouvelle that, unlike the Irving press, doesn't consistently badmouth the idea of unions and the NDP.

However, just because a lousy electoral system is 'on the books' is no reason to accept it. Saddam Hussein could make the argument that the opposition 'could' have won their last election, if only they had candidates who would run!

There is no such thing as 'proven', this isn't a hockey game, we are talking about representation of the population. Quite clearly it is the system that is the problem, that's why the system has been changed in virtually every industrial country in the world. Canada now has the least representative government in the 'democratic' world.

Obviously its the system at fault when 20% of the population votes for a party, which then gets less than 10% of the seats. However, many people simply accept bad situations as being inevitable and adapt their theories accordingly, but people overcame those obstacles in ireland and New Zealand, and I have no doubt that eventually they will in Canada.

So as said elsewhere, there is simply no point in almost half of the population voting, since there vote is meaningless. That's not 'whining', that's simply critical analysis, which is what you were offering about the NDP in the first place.

EX-NDIP said...

Its been tough sleeding for the Ndips for the last few years . . . still stuck in the 60's, the libs have been moving into their terrory as they move farther left and the "watermellon party" the Greens are eating their lunch on the far left.
A year or so ago I predicted that Laytons party would eventually join with the LPC . . . I think it would be a nice fit!

Anonymous said...

Actually, from looking at past elections it seems Jack has been an overwhelming success. The NDP seats vary widely, but their popular support wavers. The nineties saw their biggest decline, although that could partly be canadians dislike of women leaders. Audrey saw the biggest decline in 93, no doubt partly a victim of canadians insistence on defeating mulroney.

Alexa brought it up some, but then saw it drop again in 2000. The NDP saw a high of 43 seats in 88, showing that canadians weren't nearly so supportive of free trade as commentors would have us believe.

Alexa also saw the highest increase, in 97 she saw a 133% increase in seats, but that was only with a 4% increase that disappeared in 2000.

The highest public support they ever got was in defeating Joe Clark's minority government, which saw them with 20% public support, and again in 88. Layton doesn't have close to the 43 seats that the NDP got in 88, but with only 3 % less in public support which is one of few parties with increasing support that seems to indicate quite an upswing, not a downswing.

Shannon said...

However, when people see the absolute failure of the two provinces with NDP governments-Sask and Manitoba - losing population, losing businesses because of the socialist tax regimes, losing students and young people to places where they can be equal to their own ambitions not hamstrung by paying welfare for those who won't contribute (not can't-won't) you can see why any clear thinking persona beyond the flower child years of utopian anti-everything and protectionism would be damned to let the NFP anywhere near the bank books or the program development in the federal government.
Until they actually

nbpolitico said...

Anon choose another year for comparisons. In 74 Lewis was leader not Broadbent and the party won only 16 seats, its worst showing since 1958 (when it was the CCF) and Lewis resigned over the dismal showing. Note 16/265 (for which Lewis resigned) is more seats than the 19/308 that Layton saw as a big victory.

Anonymous said...

Lewis didn't just resign over the dismal showing, that was mostly for show. As often happens with the NDP, mostly once again due to the dismally designed electoral system, the seats will fluctuate wildly, however the number of canadians who support them remains constant.

So while the number of seats dropped by half under Lewis, their support only declined by 4%, which is pretty negligible. Far from being unpopular, Lewis increased the seats from Tommy Douglas' 22 to 31 in his first run, and saw an increase in popular support.

But then let's pick another year. While Ed increased the seats right away, it took him two elections to increase the popular vote to the levels it had been at. In 1984 Ed also saw a drop, so its not like Ed was a voter magnet.

THe big change for the NDP occurred after Ed left and Audrey came in. Like I said, no doubt that had a lot to do with a new, green leader who was a woman, plus canadians desire to get rid of Mulroney.

The Mulroney hypothesis seems to be borne out by the fact that while 93 saw a drop of 79% in seats and only 13% in the popular vote, however, next election, once again with a new, green lady leader, they saw their highest increase ever, 133% in seats, although only 4% in the popular vote.

In 2000 once again under Alexa we saw another drop of 38% in seats, which was only 2.5% in the popular vote.

Since Jack the party has literally been rejuvenated, seeing a 46% increase in seats to 19 in 04, which was 7% higher than the previous election, a feat not matched by ANY NDP leader. In 06 we saw a another 52% in seats to 29 , which was ironically only a 2 % increase in popular support. Two increases in a row in both seat number and popular support is something that has only occurred once before, 79-84, under Ed.

Of course there are many other factors besides the leader. Many vote for a party despite their leader, but from the numbers, it's clear Jack has been good for the NDP, no matter how people may feel about him.

nuna d. above said...

After the peak of the '88 election the NDP had 3 of every 4 of their seats in Western Canada. The NDP then betrayed their constituents by supporting the Charlottetown Accord, and they have never recovered in the West.
Audrey McLaughlin stood and voted with the Reform Party against the Liberal gun registry because by then she realized there was no pay-off in the NDP ignoring their base and trying to appeal to downtown Toronto.
As the Conservatives now own the rural west, Layton has to go for Toronto votes.

Anonymous said...

The NDP is the only party of the working class and the BLUE and BLUE LITE are the parties of destruction of Canada because of the CCF/NDP TOMMY C DOUGLAS we have our MEDICARE and SOCIAL PROGRAMS and what NDP Jack Layton SHOULD BE PROMOTING IS NATIONALIZATON ACT of oil and gas so all Canadians CAN HAVE LOWER GAS PRICES AT THE PUMPS and instead of the CORPORATE BIG OIL GAS GOUGING and it is the BREAD AND BUTTER STUPID Layton THAT IS getting back to CCF/NDP TOMMY C DOUGLAS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC POLITICS and Jack Layton lately is moving in the polls because of talking and acting bread and butter issues instead of identity politics which is a complete diaster VOTE NDP