Is the NDP stock falling across the country? How does one rationalize the set backs that the NDP has faced provincially in the last few months: defeat seized from the jaws of victory in British Columbia; the complete repudiation of the NDP government in Nova Scotia; and, the declining poll numbers for the NDP government in Manitoba? In addition, the federal NDP has fallen back to third place in most polls behind the Conservatives and Liberals.
There are not many bright lights for the party across the country. Some analysts point to Ontario where some polls have the NDP polling at comparable levels to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. The poll numbers may be a false positive as the NDP still face a negative stigma based on the only time the NDP formed government in Ontario twenty years ago. The Nova Scotia NDP will definitely face the same ‘Bob Rae’ dilemma over the next decade after their defeat last week from government to third place.
What does this mean for Thomas Mulcair and the federal NDP? Mulcair has performed well as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons but the party’s poll numbers have declined since the election of Trudeau as Liberal Leader. There are those who have argued that the rise in the Liberal’s fortune is based on “personality politics” and not based on substantive policies. Trudeau will need to eventually outline policies at which time he will lose some support, but the same could be said for Mulcair.
The bigger issue for the NDP is how to convince Canadians to like Mulcair. That sounds vain but that is where Jack Layton was successful and where Mulcair has struggled.
So here is some advice for Thomas Mulcair to avoid the fate of his provincial cousins: 1) Smile more often and let Canadians get to know you. We don’t at this point. There is a reason why Canadians would have preferred to have a beer with Jack Layton. He seemed like a fun, nice guy who always had a smile. 2) Designate a ‘pit bull’ within the party to take the government to task that will allow Mulcair to stay above the fray. This doesn’t mean that Mulcair avoids asking tough pointed questions in the House, but without that ‘pit bull’ Mulcair constantly comes across as an angry man. 3) Mulcair needs a makeover. Just as David Peterson utilized image guro Gabor Apor to transform his image before the 1985 Ontario election, Mulcair needs to adjust his image. There are not many western democracies who have elected a leader who has facial hair. Unfortunately Mulcair needs to shave.
If the NDP stock is to rebound across Canada, it will need to start at the top with Thomas Mulcair. In the last election the people of this country believed that Jack Layton was best suited to be the Leader of the Official Opposition due primarily to his skill at connecting with the people. Granted it took Layton a few elections to achieve this milestone for the NDP, however Mulcair has not been afforded the same luxury of time. Mulcair either steps up with two years left before the next election or he could find himself back as the third party having blown a historic opportunity.