October 20, 2015

An American's Canadian election post mortem for the #NDP

Tom Mulcair: Please feel
free to exit the NDP cabin.
Yes, it's a post-mortem, and I come to bury Stephen Harper and also not to praise him.

That said, my real post-mortem is for the New Democratic Party, commonly known by its three initials; hence the hashtag.

For Americans unaware of Canada's political structure, a couple of points.

First, it's a parliamentary government, with its House of Commons closely paralleling Great Britain's.

Related to that, it, like the UK (and the US House of Representatives), has a "first past the post system." That means, there are no runoffs if no candidate in a race that has three or more fails to get an absolute majority.

And, related to that? Just as Britain has the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labor, Canada has the Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats. And, those two spectrums parallel.

The Canadian Liberals are the centrist party; think US Democrats. The Conservatives? On outgoing Prime Minister Harper, think very much of a northern George W. Bush.

And, the New Democrats? Think Bernie Sanders, but under less charismatic leadership.

Thomas Mulcair became party leader after Jack Layton, the NDP leader who brought it to second place and official parliamentary opposition, died relatively young of cancer.

Mulcair had several handicaps coming into this election.

First, as Canadian friends of mine have said, he's not very charismatic. Not even compared to Harper. Of course, Justin Trudeau is somewhat Canada's answer to Jack Kennedy, so lack of charisma is a big issue.

Second, his own party took four ballots to elect him leader.

Maybe that's in part because he is a bit of a carpetbagger, according to Wikipedia. At the provincial level, he was a Liberal before resigning from the provincial cabinet. He then went party-hunting, not only with the national Liberals and NDP, but also with the Conservatives.

Anyway, his campaign had one big strategic error, and some tactical gaffes related to that.

I believe Mulcair ran not to lose, rather than running to win, especially when polls showed the NDP surging into the lead about a month into the 11-week campaign.

In its details, I think he figured Harper, enraged by the red flag of the Trudeau name (Harper has said Pierre Trudeau's 1980 energy tax led him into politics), would punch himself out more against the Liberals. All Mulcair had to do was play defense, and counterpunch when Harper targeted him.

At this point, I'm going to shoot down a red herring.

Some Canadian friends of mine suggest the NDP lost over the niqab issue, since Quebec is the party's stronghold, with Ontario second. I don't think that rings true. The Liberals took the same stance, and most the seats the NDP lost went Liberal; they didn't switch to the Bloc Québécois, let alone Conservatives.

Then, there's the tactical errors

First was pledging a balanced budget, especially when Mulcair's policies could have hurt the energy industry more than Trudeau's. (This sets aside some seeming flip-flops on pipelines by Mulcair.) Canada's economy probably could use some "juicing," and credit Trudeau, despite the ways in which I expect him to be Canada's Hillary Clinton, for seeing this.

The second was piling on, on the Conservatives' "not ready" attack line on Trudeau. I think calling Trudeau "Justin" at the one debate was seen for nothing but a pile-on. Worse, since the Conservatives' tactic was already backfiring, it had the potential of blowing up in Mulcair's face twice.

And I think it did.

Canada needs a truly liberal party, and it needs one under better leadership.

So, speaking from south of the border? MP Mulcair, you may have held your Outremont riding and kept your seat. Please follow Harper's pledge and resign as party leader as soon as possible.

Adding too this? The founder of 308, Canada's answer to 538 et al, says that NDP voters were less committed than Liberal backers.

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