Friday, November 11, 2011

The NDP's Trouncing in Saskatchewan Should be a Wake-Up Call

In the recent Saskatchewan provincial election, the NDP took a thrashing.  From the Huffington Post:
The Saskatchewan NDP suffered one of the most crushing blows in the party's history Monday night. The once dominant party was reduced from 20 to nine of the 58 seats in the legislature. NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter lost his own riding, a long-time NDP stronghold, and stepped down soon after. The Saskatchewan Party cruised to victory with 64 per cent of the vote, doubling the NDP total, and increasing their seat count to 49.
Losing Saskatchewan for the NDP is akin to the Reformers losing Alberta.  This was where it all began.

Steve LaFleur suggests that in order to regain power the party must focus on the fact that they had moved to the right in terms of placating big business.  He blames their demise on the unions.  However, LaFleur belongs to the right-wing Frontier Centre, another think tank whose staff move in and out of the Harper government.

He discusses the destruction of the PC Party in that province, but the fact is that Brad Wall was a member of that government, and the "new" party is the same old neoconservative party of Grant Devine.  Tom Lukiwski was their general manager and is now a Harper MP.  Senator David Tkachuk was another corrupt insider of those not so defunct neocons.

I think Murray Dobbin has a better take on the problems that the NDP are currently having.  In a posting before this trouncing, he discussed the direction that the party was taking, as reflected in some of the candidates for leader.

Of Brian Topp he says:
Topp was Roy Romanow’s closest advisor. But Romanow [former Sask. NDP premier] was essentially a small ‘l’ liberal and his administration slashed education and health budgets almost as much as the previous Tory regime. I once interviewed Romanow just before he became party leader and asked him about the role of social movements and he replied they were “completely useless.” His government reflected that attitude. Maybe Topp disagreed with him — but if he did, he had little influence.
And of Mulcair:
He is an unrepentant capitalist and big ‘L’ Liberal at heart who is barely out of synch with the 1 per cent the Occupiers have targeted.
In fact, when Thomas Mulcair first decided to enter federal politics, he couldn't decide whether to run for the NDP or the Conservatives.  Clearly he chose the NDP because there was more room to advance his own career.  Dobbin is right when he says:
One of the weaknesses of the party under Jack Layton was its preoccupation with tactical maneuvering at the expense of policy development. The party had almost no policy people but a lot of communications flaks. Topp had enormous influence with Layton and we can assume he was one of the architects of this approach — one that moved the party to the centre. At the same time, the party was accused of putting its interests ahead of the country’s — with some going so far as to blame it for allowing Harper to gain his first minority.
I like Paul Dewar very much and will be watching his bid closely.  Peggy Nash has an opportunity to capture the imagination of the electorate, but with the orchestrated and unwarranted attacks on unions by Canada's conservative movement, she could be in for a rough ride.

Thomas Mulcair would be an unmitigated disaster.  A Stepen Harper mini-me.  I haven't liked him since he attacked Libby Davies for drawing attention to the plight of the occupied Palestinians.

Surge and Decline

In 1960, political scientist Angus Campbell, brought forth a theory of "surge and decline" in American politics.  It mostly addressed the often conflicting results of the mid-term and presidential elections.  However, since then many have used the theory within a particular campaign.

The current Republican leadership race is a good example.  Michelle Bachmann "surged" one week, Rick Perry another.  Now they have both dropped significantly.

The NDP success in the last federal election was the result of a "surge" in popularity for Jack Layton.  Increased media attention led to advantageous name recognition, but had the campaign gone on another week or two, it's difficult to say if it would have lasted.

Saskatchewan was the NDP's mid-term election, and as I say, hopefully, their wake-up call.  In their quest to destroy the Liberals, they have forgotten who they are.  They will never outstrategize Stephen Harper, nor will they take over the Liberal Party, so they shouldn't try.

Two weeks ago the Liberals had a membership drive with a target of 5,000 new members.  They landed 5,087.  Their death is wishful thinking on the part of both the Reformers and the NDP.  The Liberal base is disappointed but not ready to jump ship.

The Right Did Not Unite, the Populist Parties Did

In 2002, the Fraser Institute published a report on the feasibility of uniting the struggling PC Party with the Reform-Alliance.  The right had been attempting such a thing since 1967, and Ernest Manning's Political Realignment.  The Report: An Analysis On The Differences Between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada & The Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, by Laurence Putnam, stated that "The first misconception about the Reform movement is that it is a conservative party. The Reform party has all the characteristics of a Western populist party and very few marks of a conservative party."

What was interesting about the report however, was the analysis of the 1993 election that became a turning point in Canadian politics.  One of my readers recently suggested that Harper's movement simply took over the conservative base and that his supporters were already conservatives.  Putnam's analysis proves otherwise.
The Liberal gains in the West during the 1993 election came chiefly at the expense of the PC Party, whereas most Reform party gains came chiefly at the expense of the NDP, as was witnessed in Lorne Nystrom's shocking loss in the Saskatchewan riding of Yorkton-Melville to Reform challenger Garry Breitkreuz .... British Columbians who supported the NDP in the 1980's and supported the Reform Party through the 1990's did not expediently shift their political views from the left to the right, but rather they were voting for the populist, anti-establishment party that best represented their views at the time.
In British Columbia in 1988, the NDP won 19 seats, but in 1993, only 2. The PCs went from 12 to 0, while the Liberals from 1 to 6.  The Liberals and PCs were often interchangeable.  In fact PC leader Kim Campbell lost her seat to Liberal Hedy Fry.

The Reform-Alliance's success only came about when they bought out the rights to the PC Party and pretended to be Tories, allowing them to cash in on an historical tradition.  This won't work for the NDP because the Liberal Party is not currently on the auction block.

The Quebec surge knocked out the Bloc, who were often allies of the NDP, and vote-splitting knocked down the Liberals.  If the NDP hope to succeed, they have to come out as themselves and define what they stand for.
I have always thought that we did better under the Liberals when the NDP held the balance of power.  There is no reason to believe that an NDP government with a Liberal opposition, wouldn't do the same.  However, Jack Layton led  his party in a full frontal attack on the LPC, ignoring the stronger forces of the conservative movement.

As Murray Dobbin says:  "... we are facing possibly monumental social and economic change in the next few years. The [NDP] leadership race is being judged by trying to imagine who can defeat Stephen Harper in four years — but just what are people thinking the world and Canada will look like in four years?"

We need a progressive movement and we need it now.  In four years it may be too late.

Bob Rae is in a unique position, because he has led both the NDP and the Liberals.  Maybe he can find common ground.  We can't depend on "surges" because they inevitably lead to decline.


  1. I completely agree that there is a void for a progressive party in Canada (among other places) and I firmly believe that there is an appetite for one, despite the fact that entrenched political forces might have us believe otherwise.

    I hope that the NDP can retrieve their moral/ political compass, since they're in the enviable position of already being an established party. Starting from scratch for a political party is hard and the Harper conservatives are endeavouring to make it harder.

    Neoconservative forces have been immensely successful in selling the idea that populist policies are antithetical to getting elected. It would be nice to see that trend reversed.

    Great piece, as always.

  2. Your comment about not knowing where we'll be in four years is very apt. I suspect strongly that we'll be very close to an environmental disaster by then with the end of arctic summer ice. China has just upped the ante by suggesting that renewable products and their use be counted as credits at the COP Durban meeting. If accepted, they will trump the west in meeting the coming climate crisis throwing the Harper government into disarray here at home. The field will then be open for a new vision. Who will hold that vision? Hmmm...