Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Democrat disappointments

The Canadian election seems to have gone pretty much as expected, with something of a late rally to the Liberals. I thought the NDP's performance; up from 19 to 29 was a bit disappointing. If they are not going to make substantial gains against the Liberals at a time like this when are they going to? It is still well short of their maximum representation in the past 43 in 1988. The recent dreaming of some NDP members about progress towards replacing the Liberals was unfulfilled. The NDP suffered a net loss on the prairies (my pessimistic expectations in my earlier post were overfufilled) with the defeat of Niki Ashton in Churchill (which has the second highest First Nations population of any electorate) with the NDP vote split after the former NDP MP ran as Independent after departing the party on gay marriage.

If we compare 1988 and 2006 we find that in 1988 the NDP won 32 out of 86 seats in the west (prairies + BC) and this time 13/92. The NDP's problem is I think that ultimately it can't really compete with the Liberals on the social agenda, the Liberals will move left on this to capture their ground, and competing on the social agenda reduces the NDP's ability to win votes in the west as shown by Churchill. Keith Archer's Political Activists hints at this in showing the divergent attitudes of older and western NDP members. The fact that the NDP/Liberal balance in the west has shifted in favour of the Liberals from 1988 to 2006 shows how the new politics is unfavourable ground for the NDP. The NDP needs something to distinguish it on the economic front from the Liberals but after the collapse of the socialist project what can this be? On the other hand perhaps most of NDP's western decline is due to the Saskatchewan collapse from 1988 , was their 1988 vote there a historical remnant (like Democrats in the US south before 1994?) but the NDP did recover from the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.
We can compare the problems of the NDP vs. the liberals to the Greens vs. Labor in Australia; the Greens were unable to make a breakthrough until 2001 when Labor's capitulation to the conservatives on the Tampa crisis enabled them to capture social liberal votes from Labor.


At 10:55 AM, Blogger John Murney said...

Excellent analysis.
Unless the NDP starts to build a base in the french-speaking, social democratic province of Quebec, the NDP has no future in Canada. The party's economic platform is out of tune in the new politics, and you are right, they can't compete with the Liberals.
The other problem the NDP has is that Canada basically reflects Canadian values - social progressivism and fiscal conservativism. It is on fiscal policy that the federal NDP fall short.
Personally, I think social democracy/socialism - whatever you want to call it, needs to be revamped. The 'left' for lack of a better term has not responded in a meaningful way to the rise of neo-conservativism,and needs to do so before it can move forward.

The Saskatchewan NDP are a hegemonic power, and have been for 60 years by basically becoming the de-facto Liberal party in the province. The Sask NDP are not really socialists at all, but are very, very centrist.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger John Murney said...

One more thing - Canadians are actually quite impressed and pleased generally with the NDP gains. The 10 seat increase grew the caucus by about 50% to heights not seen since the 1980s. Even better news from the NDP perspective is that most of the new MPs are really new faces, not recycled hacks and defeated veteran MPs. You should take a different attitude - these are the best NDP results in decades.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Geoff Robinson said...

Good points, I am commenting from a distance and having the Liberals in opposition puts them on a more level playing field to the NDP. Saskatchewan reminds me of Queensland in Australia where Labor has been dominant at a state level but is slaughtered at the federal level. Are people a bit complacent about Harper being in a minority? The conservatives here had to face a nominal centre-left majority in the Senate (which here is almost as powerful as the lower house) 1996-2004 but they have still reshaped Australia in their image.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger John Murney said...

Geoff, progressive Canadians are not worried about the Harper Minority Government. Due to the nature of minority governments, it will be impossible for Harper to roll out his 'hidden agenda' as it has come to be called. There won't be the radical type of changes in Canada that your nation experienced, because Harper's government will be toppled at the first sign of the 'hidden agenda' - implementing social conservativism. Canadians were frightened of a Conservative Majority, and voted accordingly on Monday.

Frankly, I'm not convinced the Conservatives can win a majority government in Canada - they would have to win a pile of seats in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to do it. Between those 3 cities are probably 100 seats, and the Conservatives didn't win a single seat in any of those cities on Monday.


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