The NDP: A Tale of Two Parties

This week an army of demoralized New Democrats will solemnly trudge into Edmonton for a convention they hope will take the form of a massive pep talk.

After all, if any party needs pepping it’s the NDP.

Ever since the party’s disastrous defeat five months ago in the 2015 federal election, the NDP, consumed with self-doubt, riddled with angst, and sidetracked by the need to single out scapegoats, has descended into a deep funk.

Yet at the end of the day no amount of cheery words or upbeat messaging can change the NDP’s depressing reality.

And it’s a reality the NDP will ultimately have to face.

That means New Democrats must come to grips with the fact that their party as it exists today is almost a completely different party from the one which existed on the eve of the 2015 federal election.

Certainly, the party’s psychology is now vastly different.

Prior to the 2015 election, the NDP was brash, almost to the point of swaggering.

Riding a seemingly irresistible wave of momentum, New Democrats allowed themselves to imagine they were on the verge of an historic victory that would see the election of Canada’s first officially socialist government.

Nor were such high hopes unwarranted.

Its unprecedented position as the Official Opposition in Parliament, its seemingly unassailable bastion in Quebec and its consistently strong showing in opinion polls, all provided a strong foundation for NDP optimism.

Today, of course, that optimism, like Scarlett O’Hara’s Confederacy, is all but gone with the wind.

And what’s driven away that confidence is the NDP’s current strategic situation which is   much different now than it was in 2015.

After ingloriously crashing in the election, the NDP, now relegated to third place in Parliament, its Quebec stronghold in ruins and trailing badly in the polls, is a mere shadow of its former self.

In a flash, it’s gone from contender to pretender.

What’s worse, the NDP – once the undisputed champion of Canada’s progressive movement – now finds itself basically on the right of the Liberal Party, which, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has swung dramatically to the left.

All this, of course, leads to the big question of the day: if so much for the NDP has changed, why should its leader remain the same?

Is Thomas Mulcair the leader who can reboot the NDP?

It’s a question that needs asking since rebuilding the party wasn’t in Mulcair’s original job description.

Back when he took over the party in 2012, when the NDP was seemingly on the ascendency and needed to convince voters it was ready to govern, New Democrats needed a leader who seemed prime ministerial, who seemed to offer “safe change”, who could offer the hope of building on the NDP’s Quebec base.

Mulcair, with his centrist, non-threatening ideology, his calm professorial demeanor, his strong roots in Quebec politics, more than fulfilled those requirements.

But now the NDP is a different party with different needs.

In 2015 the NDP was fighting for power; in 2016 it’s fighting for relevance.

So perhaps the NDP of 2016 and beyond needs a different sort of leader, with different attributes and qualities than the ones Mulcair provides.

Maybe it needs a leader who is a charismatic socialist firebrand, maybe it needs a leader who possesses left-wing populist appeal, or maybe it needs a leader from outside central Canada.

In a sense the NDP is like a Tale of Two Parties.

The man who seemed suited to lead the NDP in its best of times, might not be the man suited to lead it in its worst of times.

This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.


1 Comment on “The NDP: A Tale of Two Parties

  1. If they want to be taken seriously — an impossibility, considering their unrealistic positions on issues — they can start by dropping “New” from their name, as they’ve been using it for about 50 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *