The most fascinating thing about the rise of Thomas Mulcair and the NDP to the top of federal opinion polls is not that he is there, it’s how he got there.
Let’s face it, while the NDP leading the polls is surprising, it’s not astounding. The party is, after all, the official opposition and, with its election in Alberta, has won provincial elections in every province west of Quebec as well as in Nova Scotia.
They are no longer the Boogie Man of Canadian politics and people are no longer willing to be scared off simply because conservatives scream they will raise taxes and scare off businesses.
No, what is truly fascinating about the NDP’s rise is not that it happened, but how – what exactly has transpired in the last two months to move the NDP from 10 points behind the Conservatives to four points ahead?
It hasn’t been any particular campaign announcement that I can find. In fact the most news about NDP campaign promises I could find was when Mulcair got the corporate tax rate wrong. Otherwise the NDP seems to be campaigning on basically what the NDP has always campaigned on.
And even that effort seems minimalist. In May, the NDP bought air time for a television commercial – which I found online by searching. This in comparison to the year-long-plus campaigns by the Tories – attacking Justin Trudeau — and the Liberals, praising Justin Trudeau.
That commercial basically says Thomas Mulcair is a middle class guy who will look out for the middle class … and bring change to Ottawa. And that’s it. Hardly the stuff that turns around polling numbers.
But in the long run I think that may be what has people so turned on to the NDP these days – that they aren’t doing anything to try and change the polling numbers, they are just doing what they are always doing and standing up for what they have always stood for.
One issue in particular has been glaring on this for me, in large part because the Liberals got it so wrong that people are not only jumping from red to orange, but jumping from blue over red to orange.
That issue is C51, where the Liberals first supported the Bill then vowed to change parts of it if elected, leaving most people unsure of exactly where they stand on the issue of surveilling, monitoring and arresting Canadians in order to protect Canadians.
That leaves the NDP the only consistent opposition to C51. But more important, it calls into question the Liberals position on other issues: if they can waffle so badly on something as important as C51, what else might they be changing their minds on?
The NDP, on the other hand, has been consistent across the board – at least to date. Even their opposition to using the military to fight ISIS (another confusing Liberal flip) can at least be respected by voters and sticking to principle, even if voters don’t necessarily agree with that principle.
And this consistency, I think is what leading the attraction for the NDP, much like it did for the Harper Conservatives in 2004 and 2006, particularly the latter when Harper issued his five point plan – and stuck to it (the fact he had no further points after being elected may be finally coming back to haunt him after a decade in power.)
Despite a general disillusionment with politics, many people still long for a politician, or a party, who is actually going to do what he or she says. In Ontario, Mike Harris got elected to second term in part because even people who didn’t like what he did in his first term respected he did exactly what he said he was going to do when he was running in 1995.
And right now it appears, Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are the ones voters believe might actually do what he says.
The challenge might be for the NDP to convince voters that won’t change in office, because it’s always easier to promise something than it is to deliver that promise.
And October is still a long way off.
Next time: what does the change in the federal election landscape mean locally?
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