Saturday, November 21, 2009

But Will They Answer the Door?

Opportunity -- in form of Liberal weakness -- knocking for NDP

If hiring Peter Donolo to serve as Chief of Stafff of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition represents Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party pressing the panic button, they may have pressed it just in time.

A recent poll has the NDP holding the support of 19% of Canadians, compared to 24% for the Liberals.

Meanwhile, the Conservative party has maintained the support of 37% of Canadians.

If the Liberals and NDP each continue following this momentum, the NDP could, in time, eclipse the Liberals to, for the first time in history, become the Official Opposition.

Of course this isn't the first time in Canadian history that the NDP have flirted with such heights. Once, briefly before the 1988 election, Ed Broadbent was believed to be in a position to lead his party to a minority government. Even when Broadbent led the party short of that mark, he still led it to its best federal results in history: 43 seats.

Now, under the leadership of Jack Layton -- who has succeeded Broadbent in way that neither Audrey McLaughlin or Alexa McDonough ever could -- the NDP is back on the cusp of some serious federal success.

Opportunity is knocking for the NDP. But will they answer the door?

"If the NDP come forth as a reasonable party with a platform that resonates, I think they could overcome their traditional shackles and go above what they did with Broadbent," explains former Liberal Party President Stephen LeDrew. "There's no question, given the current state of disarray with the Liberals, and the fact that the Liberals have yet to explain why Canadians should vote for the Liberals, that the NDP can see the vacuum in there and if they fill it the right way I think they'll be rewarded."

As LeDrew notes, Liberal weakness alone isn't enough for the NDP.

In order to truly capitalize on the current weakness of the Liberal Party, the NDP has to truly deliver moderate policies and convince broad cores of voters that they have the lunatic fringe in their party under control -- an effort that is invariably foiled at each NDP convention.

"The opportunity that we have is to go to traditional Liberal voters and Progressive Conservative voters and say, politics is changing in this country," agrees NDP national director Brad Lavigne. "The things that you loved about your party for years, progressive values, can now be found in a bigger, modern New Democratic Party under Jack Layton's leadership."

Of course there are risks that come with this kind of approach. In order to court Liberal or progressive conservative voters, the NDP will have to demonstrate that it can not only be progressive, but also conservative. It has to be able to show that it can temper its progressive impulses with fiscal and social responsibility.

Some provincial NDP governments have, in the past, shown that they can accomplish this goal, even if in a flawed manner.

However, some members of the NDP don't seem prepared to accomplish this task. Janice MacKinnon, a former NDP Finance Minister of Saskatchewan, chaulks Tory regional strength up to the NDP's inability to promote its stance on regional issues. Her example is the long-gun registry.

Yet 61% of Canadians outside Quebec believe getting rid of the long-gun registry is a good idea. Only in Quebec did a slim majority support the registry.

Of course with the nature of Canadian politics, "regional issues" is often just another code for "wedge issues". If the NDP wants to campaign across Canada with a wedge issue that will only appeal to Quebeckers, they'll likely find themselves disappointed with the results.

The NDP recently opposed the abolition of the long-gun registry. So this begs an even more important question of whether or not the NDP will answer the door upon which opportuniy is knocking.

The more important question is: can they answer the door?

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Dan Shields - "NDP Soaring in Public Opinion Polls, Tory Party Fading"

ThreeHundredEight - "New AR Poll - 15-point Conservative Lead"

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