Earlier this month, I mused that we are but a short jaunt from the next writ-drop. Harper, I figured, is just waiting to back a flatbed up to Parliament and unload delicious goodies that will serve as the offerings for his next campaign.
And so, if it’s true — as many Parliamentary apparatchiks think it is — it begs a serious question: why the hell is nobody ready? With 317 days to go, it would appear as though everyone is sitting on their hands.
But of the three major parties, what with Harper’s laying-in-wait and Trudeau’s lead in the polls, nobody appears to be quite so unprepared as the New Democrats.
Given that their support has plunged about 10% since Mulcair’s ascension to chiefdom, the Dippers should be seriously taking stock of their situation.
Indeed, the party has mounted a relatively impressive Parliamentary defence against Harper’s dark legislative forces, and for that, they should be commended.
But just doing your job in Question Period does not give you a blank cheque for general malaise. And that is exactly what the NDP has been doing, of late.
They have utterly failed to take a coherent position on regulating prostitution, entirely refused to put forward a complete environmental plan, muddled through some buzzwords on economic policy, committed to the insufferable ‘honest broker’ line on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and largely sidestepped social issues.
You can count solid — or, somewhat solid — NDP promises on one hand: cap and trade, affordable daycare, and a West-to-East pipeline.
A few others are low-risk commitments that involve reversing Harper decisions — bring Old Age Security minimums back down to 65, reverse corporate tax cuts and, um, maybe some other stuff.
That is hardly a committed vision to run a country. That’s not a good enough platform to get elected dogcatcher in Moose Jaw.
But the NDP seem to think that their watered-down meandering through policy is impressing Canadians. Asking that Parliament refer C-36 to the Supreme Court before it passes, they figure, will make them look responsible and not-too-friendly with those gross prostitutes. That idea, while not terrible, isn’t filtering down to Canadians. If you oppose it, just oppose it.
Same thing on Temporary Foreign Workers — less! they say, with little explanation of what they would replace it with, whether they would establish a more favourable path to permanent residency, or how they would avoid price increases and business closure after their short-sighted moratorium. But hey: they want an independent review! (Read: We’ll make policy, later!)
There’s nothing wrong with hedging decisions. The NDP is still in opposition, of course. But punting every decision is a disastrous policy.
Thomas Mulcair is seen as the best choice for Prime Minister by a paltry 17% of Canadians, according to Angus-Reid (which has been more favourable to the NDP’s poll numbers.)
Or, take Abacus Data (which has the NDP much farther back) has the NDP getting clobbered by those who consider themselves left-wing, right-wing, and flexible. Nearly twice as many left-wing voters say they intend to vote Liberal than intend to vote New Democratic. Only 19% of centrist voters are opting for Mulcair.
Poll numbers offer an interesting insight to the situation, but they’re not the be all and end all. As the Dippers love to point out, Mulcair has the best favourables (job approval less job disapproval) — Harper is at -20, Trudeau is at +2, and Mulcair is at +9, according to Angus-Reid. His unknowns, however, at also highest, at 18%.
That is to say: Mulcair has the most room to grow, and arguably the highest vote ceiling, yet he isn’t capturing it.
Because, as I laid out above, Mulcair has utterly failed to explain to Canadians why they ought to take a risk on him. For the Average Voter™, the Liberals are still the default second party. If the NDP wants to disrupt that cycle, it needs to put forward a coherent reason why.
Take the tales of four New Democrats: Adrian Dix, in BC; Andrea Horwath, in Ontario; and Darrell Dexter, in Nova Scotia.
Dix led an utterly confused and meaningless campaign and was blown out of the water, and handed Christy Clark victory on a platter. Horwath was blasted for running to the right of Wynne’s Liberals and basically abandoning the core values of her party. Dexter, meanwhile, ran and won in a shoo-in election, only to face electoral oblivion in his first shot at re-election.
By all accounts, voters were susceptible for an NDP government in BC and Ontario. There was no particular aversion to their brand — frustration over past governments, while present in some ridings, largely dissipated. So why did they lose?
If you’re a frequent reader of this column, I’m going to sound like a broken record: it’s the friggin’ economy, stupid.
Even in polls that showed Dix sweeping to victory, voters still gave Clark a 4% edge over Dix on the economy (31% listed the economy as their top priority.)
In Ontario, we have some much more detailed and revealing numbers. Like in BC, the economy was the top issue for 35% of voters — and it was Wynne who had the best marks on that issue, 5% ahead of the PCs and 11% ahead of the NDP. 16% of voters, who skewed Liberal, also said that their top priority in voting was to oppose Hudak’s crazy jobs plan.
16% of voters said that the motivation sending them to the polling booth was opposing Hudak’s crazy opus. And, indeed, there: Horwath had the best favourables. Yet voters believed that Wynne had the best chance of winning and, thus, the best chance to oppose Hudak (whose favourables were -29%.)
Nova Scotia is the exact same story. 35% say economy is the top issue, and a mere 18% say the NDP is best suited to handle it.
Now, let’s look federal: one poll (now, a few months old) shows the NDP managing merely 21% approval rate on their economic platform. Harper got 24% and Trudeau, 27%. More than a quarter of voters think the economy will improve if Trudeau wins, with less than a fifth feeling the same way about Mulcair.
There’s no use getting caught up in the exact numbers, because they can change quite rapidly, what matters is the lesson: nobody is going to cut the NDP slack on economic issues. Given that the NDP’s natural weakness is fiscal policy, they need to bolster their offence on that issue. They so rarely do. As such, they are facing defeat again, and again, and again.
The trends are clear that Mulcair is about to fall into the same bear trap.
To avoid it, he needs a full frontal assault on the topic. None of this half-assed ‘Kijiji Economics’ crap, or just lip-service mention of income inequality. Mulcair needs to make Canadians believe that he is the best suited to run the economy. He needs to convince voters that he is better than the other two.
Otherwise, he won’t win. He simply won’t.
How? Well, some wondered why Mulcair didn’t double down on adopting postal banking as a way of improving Canada Post’s bottom line, while boosting job numbers and investment, and providing Canadians a cheap way to bank and saving door-to-door delivery. Indeed, they sort-of-kind-of endorsed it, and then never talked about it again.
Getting a few more economist faces out front couldn’t hurt, either. Peggy Nash was a pretty lacklustre finance critic, and didn’t earn much repute for the party on economic matters. Nathan Cullen is already a bit better, but seems intent on talking only about BC natural resource programs, rather than actual economic matters. Perhaps someone who actually commands a bit of respect on fiscal management would boost the party’s fortunes.
And for a party so obsessed about Question Period, economic matters — real economic matters, not just lazy potshots on ‘Kijiji Economics’ or that whole Temporary Foreign Worker mess — are often pushed off to the last few questions.
Thomas Mulcair needs to turn the NDP in a party that people can trust.
He has 317 days to do it.
OTHER ARTICLES BY JUSTIN LING
The shambolic study of the Conservative’s prostitution bill
330 Days to an election
Cheers and jeers for Ottawa communications warcraft
The 6.4 million barrel question
What the hell is the Harper government thinking?
Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling