Friday, February 5, 2010

Everyone Knows Jack

Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He's got a good attitude about it and is optimistic. He's determined to beat it and I have no doubt that he will. I wish him all the best.

Jack Layton has been a very successful political leader, rescuing the NDP from its sorry days in the 1990s. I thought that now would be a good time to look at what Layton has accomplished in his seven years as leader of the NDP.When Ed Broadbent stepped down as leader of the NDP in 1989, he did so at the height of his party's influence. The party earned 20.4% of the vote the previous year, and won 43 seats. That record has yet to be surpassed.

From 1989 to 1995, Audrey McLaughlin was head of the party. The 1993 election was disastrous for the NDP. They won nine seats and 6.9% of the vote, the worst result in the NDP's history. Things picked up a little under Alexa McDonough, as the party went to 21 seats and 11% in 1997. They slipped in 2000, with only 13 seats and 8.5% of the vote.

When Layton took the helm in 2003, he did so amid a good deal of excitement and optimism for the party's future. He didn't disappoint. In the 2004 election, he earned 15.7% of the vote (the most since the 1988 election) and 19 seats, almost as good as McDonough's 1997 success. He was one of the first leaders to figure out how to work in a minority parliament, winning concessions from Prime Minister Paul Martin in order to gain his support.

In the 2006 election, Layton had more success. He took home 17.5% of the vote and 29 seats, the most since the 1988 election. Despite his role as fourth in parliament, Layton had far more influence as an opposition leader, especially after Martin stepped down and the Liberals began their leadership race.

When Stéphane Dion took the helm of the Liberals, Layton really stepped forward and gained a lot of the spotlight. During the election, when Liberal numbers tanked, talk began of Layton as head of the opposition. The electoral result wasn't anywhere near what would have been needed for him to gain that title, but at 18.2% and 37 seats, Layton had pushed his party to heights that had only been seen before at the end of Broadbent's reign. He won seats in Newfoundland and Quebec, areas where the NDP had always struggled.

In December 2008, he was an inch away from doing something no other NDP leader had done: gained cabinet seats for the social democratic party.

Today, the party is polling badly when it is at 15% - an electoral result neither McLaughlin nor McDonough ever approached. There is a real possibility that the NDP could break the 40-seat, 20% barrier in the next election, matching Broadbent's historical-best 1988 result. That would be no small feat.

While Tommy Douglas is seen as the spiritual father of the party, Ed Broadbent has always been considered its most successful leader. Layton has yet to reach this level of success, but he is very close. Broadbent fought four elections from 1979 to 1988. Layton has fought three from 2004 to 2008. Here are their best results in each province.Broadbent has had greater numbers in six provinces, while Layton has bested him in the other four. The margin between the two leaders in those provinces that Broadbent has done better, though, is small. While Broadbent has done better in the four western provinces, Layton has done better in the four eastern provinces. In Ontario and Quebec, they have done just about as well as each other.

I suspect that after Layton beats this cancer, as I'm sure he will, he will be back on the political scene in strength, ready to lead his party into his fourth election, something only Douglas and Broadbent have done.


  1. I have to disagree with the term "influence" in the assertion:

    "When Ed Broadbent stepped down as leader of the NDP in 1989, he did so at the height of his party's influence."

    While the next sentence (about seat total and popular vote) is accurate and certainly counts for something, that is not the same as _influence_.

    In fact, I would argue that the NDP in 1989 had very little influence over public policy. For example:
    - the main policy they had just campaigned against (Canada-U.S. free trade) went ahead
    - they were facing a majority Conservative government at the beginning of a fresh term
    - the Liberal Party had reasserted itself as the clear alternative to the Tories. (Compared to pre-1988 when the LPC had barely more MPs than the NDP.)

  2. I'll grant you that, but 1 in 5 Canadians voting NDP means the NDP had influence, whether or not it was used in the House of Commons.

  3. I hadn't really looked at it in that way before - Jack has certainly done well with what he was given/earned in comparison to the NDP eleciton results champion Ed.

    Thinking not mean thoughts about Jack Layton for the next little while, as he struggles with cancer.

    Hope he responds well to the necessary treatment - nobody would ever want to wish something like that on anyone.

    Good luck sir. (Although he probably won't see this...)

  4. As you demonstrated last year, Éric, if you adjust the electoral results based on the greater number of parties running now, Jack is the NDP's most successful leader of all time.

    Amd I like him.

    I'm confident he'll be fine. Prostate cancer is pretty easy to treat, it rarely spreads, and it grows very slowly. A radical prostatectomy should have him back in action by summer.

  5. The more dangerous solution is the non-radical prostatectomy (the treatment you want if you don't want to lose sexual function). Preston Manning had a non-radical prostatectomy during the 1990s, and the national press hardly noticed.

  6. Eric maybe "popular support" is a better term then influence then.

    Without a doubt the minority situation has increased Jack Layton's ability to change public policy.

  7. I feel a little bit guilty about calling Layton a "cold bugger" on that other thread, even thou he desrved it.

    I ran across an interesting poll today:

    "According to the Angus Reid poll, 67 per cent of Canadians would be in favour of direct elections for senators and 65 per cent want to see an eight-year limit on the terms of appointed senators."

    I'm sure support is much less for... Canadians in favour of the GG using her reserve powers.

    Over to you Ishmael.

  8. AJR79 - Canadians think they want that, but they haven't done the reaserch to show what the effects of an elected Senate would be.

    The general public is generally very bad at solving problems more than one layer deep, or understanding the concept of opportunity cost, or any one of a number of other things that a necessary components of decent analysis.

    Canadians are wrong to want those things.

  9. Ira,

    It's a good think smart people like you are around, to tell us what we should want.

    Us regular folks just don't understand the issue well enough.


  10. As far as I'm concerned all the ndp and green party do is disrupt the democratic process.

    Neither one of those parties has a shot of forming official opposition, never mind government.

    Time to move to a US style two party system. Let people think about that vote, then it will really mean something.

    It's time for the bloc and the ndp and the greens to go. Bye Bye

  11. To me the most impressive thing about that chart is the rise in seat in 2006 and 2008 while the popular vote increases very little. Sure, I'd like the NDP to have more votes, but the perennial problem of third parties is the (in)ability to translate popular support into seats. Jack's done a great job of targeting and gaining individual seats. (This is, incidentally, why I think Eric's projection of NDP seats are probably low.)

    Good luck to Jack on his recovery.

  12. If you're going to try something new with the comments someday Eric, my vote would be for the Intense Debate system.

    Not being able to correct spelling errors is ruining some good snark.

    The up and down voting may be a drawback on these comments sections thou.

    I'm not sure if it has a mechanism for weeding out sockpuppets, but it may be worth looking into sometime.

  13. AJR79 that's what they use over at Macleans ?

    Those boards are insufferable.

    Everything is gotcha and scoring points, trying to match the clever snark of Wells.

    Everybody has their back up. Its a partisan knife fight.

    I actually think nothing is wrong with the current commenting system, my only advice would be to remove the ANON option.

  14. Truth Teller - I hope that never happens. Have you seen the sort of lousy government the US gets when the poiticans all appeal to the soft middle of the political spectrum? How the candidates always try never to differ significantly on any important issues during elections.

  15. The development i'd most like to see in Canadian politics is a much, much weaker federal government.

    For instance, Canada should stop going to those annoying international conferences on climate change.

    Let each province have its own approach and the feds ignore it completely.

  16. I don't like Intense Debate. The ability to reply to individual comments makes it difficult to follow, because new comments end up in the middle of the thread.

  17. I can't remove the Anonymous option without removing the Name/URL option. Everyone would have to have a Google account or one of the OpenID accounts.

  18. Shadow

    Being of a libertarian mind myself, I like your way of thinking.

    Less government, less regulation, all appeals to me.

    Stand by my comments on the greens and the ndp though. there time has come and gone.

    After all the ndp never met a tax they didn't love, and lizzie may I shudder to think what would happen if her inane plans for the country ever got implemented.

    I think government is the single greatest detriment known to man.

    I for one wan't to be left alone. I don't need some bean counter in Ottawa telling me how to live my life, or raise my children.

    Personal responsibility, and hard work should be the bedrock foundation for everybody.

    Sorry for Jack, and I wish him well, and a speedy recovery, I just have no use for his party.

    I actually have no use for any of the parties. I would love to see a real libertarian party. Since we don't have that, we have to choose between the wishy washy conservatives, and the even more wishy washy liberals.

    I wish one of our federal parties could stand up to the bloc, and tell them they can't sit in parliament. If Quebec doesn't like it tough, they know where the door is.

    I'm just tired of government, at all levels in my face, and with their hands in my pocket.

  19. Why do I attract all of the libertarians?

  20. I'm going to remove the Anonymous and Name/URL options for the weekend, and see how it works. If you have a concern about it, you can contact me via email.

  21. Hey Truth Teller.

    Lol its funny that the PQ/BQ even exist. An independent Quebec would have a ridiculously high debt to GDP ratio. And without transfers would have to raise taxes or cut services drastically.

    I've been following the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) story recently. Its giving Germany a real headache, the thought of having to bail out these countries.

    Its either that or let the Euro implode.

    Large federations like Canada and schemes like the EU tend to insulate jurisdictions from their insane fiscal policies.

    If the three western provinces seperated and took the Yukon/NWT with them the resulting country would be an economic powerhouse.

  22. Only a few years ago, a peer-reviewed economic study by the PQ showed a Quebec surplus of $15 billion after five years (IIRC) of independence. Something about doubling of efforts between Canada and Quebec.

  23. Sounds like a bit of a stretch Eric.

    I'd have to see the study but the important thing would be what assumptions it makes.

    Does Quebec take its share of the federal debt with it when it seperates ? I'm guessing PQ would say no.

    Does Quebec maintain a military ? Manufacture its own currency ? Open its own embassies around the world ? This would create more duplication, not less.

    Peer review in studies like these is basically just checking the math, as opposed to endorsing the assumptions such a study makes because they are highly subjective in nature and easy to manipulate for a desire result.

    Still, it would be interesting to see this study and have a chuckle.

  24. Shadow

    I don't know when personal responsibility became a dirty word.

    Bleeding heart liberals, expect the government to look after them from the cradle to the grave.

    I'm tired of being asked to pay for every half baked scheme the government comes up with.

    I'm tired of political correctness

    It's time to tell these slackers where to get off, you wan't to eat you work.

    It's time to tell these socialist snobs to shove it where the sun don't shine. They look down their nose at everybody, but het its ok i'm just paying the freight for all their bull.

    I work hard, look after my family, and don't ask the government for anything which is a lot more than the lefties can claim.

    I expect their usual torrent of abuse. You know what I don't care I will wear their scorn and disdain as my personal badge of honour.

    It's time to tell these leftie lunatics to get lost, and leave the silent majority alone.

  25. --- "Does Quebec take its share of the federal debt with it when it seperates ? I'm guessing PQ would say no."

    Quebec does take its share.

    --- "Does Quebec maintain a military ?"

    Yes, though not as proportionately large as Canada's.

    --- "Manufacture its own currency ?"


    --- "Open its own embassies around the world ? This would create more duplication, not less."

    No, Quebec already has consuls around the world.

    --- "Still, it would be interesting to see this study and have a chuckle."

    Well, as long as you have an open mind.

    --- "I work hard, look after my family, and don't ask the government for anything which is a lot more than the lefties can claim."

    The government provides for you everyday, ingrate.

    Seriously, I'm not interested in hearing the libertarian manifesto. Take it elsewhere.

  26. Eric under certain conditions the study sounds plausible, given that it was published a few years ago before the giant economic collapse.

    As its own full fledged nation Quebec just wouldn't work though. But in a sort of EU like association with the rest of Canada then its possible.

    I guess the question would be if Canadians were in an "ok lets work together" mood or a "you're on your own now, screw off" kind of mood.

    One example would be the financing on Quebec's debt.

    As a small indepndent nation with a high debt to GDP ratio the interest payments it would need make would increase substantially both on its own debt and its share of Canada's debt as it came time to refinance it.

    But in an association with Canada where the feds do the borrowing (issuing bonds) on Quebec's behalf there wouldn't be a problem.

  27. --- "I guess the question would be if Canadians were in an "ok lets work together" mood or a "you're on your own now, screw off" kind of mood."

    Yes. I imagine that, with Quebec sitting in the way of Atlantic Canada and with no obligation (though there is a moral one) to take its share of the federal debt, the two nations would negotiate something mutually beneficial.

  28. Eric it would depend on the mood of the country.

    Quebec wouldn't have much leverage in the matter. Being in the way of the Atlantic isn't a problem, people would just go through the US. And trade sanctions as well as seizing the assets of Quebeckers could recoup the debt.

    Then there's the question of what parts of Quebec remain Canadian.

    If Canada is divisible so is Quebec.

    My guess would be all provincial ridings that a majority voted NO would stay Canadian, turning Quebec into swiss cheese.

  29. No, that is not how it works. International law is pretty clear on that.

    Anyway, I'd prefer not to get into it.

  30. International law is a set of practices that countries may or may not choose to follow. It has no legal weight in Canada, beyond specific treaty obligations.

    But ok. I find the whole notion highly implausible and a bit laughable, I think i've made that clear.

    So I suppose we'll just drop it.

  31. Eric

    Did you leave the door open on the bat cage last night?

  32. Nobody was willing to answer the question the reporters were asking yesterday, which is whether Jack's illness would effect the NDP's voting intention on the upcoming budget.

    The prospect of running an election campaign at a time when the leader isn't 100% would be a problem for the NDP, especially since Jack has always been stronger then the NDP brand (unlike the last few Liberal leaders).

    Too soon to say but this could be a consideration.

  33. Shadow

    First I want to wish Mr. Layton well, I hope he beats this, has a full recovery, and gets back to work soon.

    As to the NDP situation. Their polling numbers haven't been great, so my guess is that they are not to eager to jump into a campaign, irrespective of Layton's health.

    If there was a campaign, I suspect deputy leader Mulcair would fare just fine. He's fluently bilingual, intelligent, and up on all the issues, which will serve him well in a leaders debate.

    One has to wonder how long the NDP can support the cons without their base blowing a gasket.

    Iggy is a complete unknown. How he will stand up in a bruising campaign is anybody's guess, so the NDP are probably factoring that into their equation.

    The BLOC, will be ready to go at anytime. The cons just threw them a gift with Prentice arguing with Charest over enviromental policy. You would think the cons would learn, that they will never win on this issue in Quebec.

    The cons do not want an election. They probably wan't to shore up their numbers a bit more, and also try and burnish Harper's reputation which took a big hit over prorogation.

    My guess is the cons will toss the NDP just a big enough bone, for them to support the budget claim a moral victory, and acting as the one's trying to make parliament work.

    This will make the Libs happy as they can finally be the ones saying that they are voting against the cons, burnishing up their anti con credentials.

    All speculation on my part. I guess we will see

  34. Shadow

    That is all assuming that Layton would not be healthy enough go through a grueling campaign, and thus hand the reins over to Mulcair, which he has of yet not done.

  35. Kevin I agree Mulcair is definetly the leader in waiting who could step in and help Layton at any time.

    But I read an article on how the budget is going to include deregulation and more foriegn ownership in the telecom and broadcasting sectors.

    That seems to me like something that the NDP would need to stand on principle against.

    They're definetly not open market free trader types. In fact the policy, if done right, is something the Liberals would probably support.

    Politically I think the NDP might votes yes, Liberals probably no.

    But in terms of what the parties actually believe, if they were voting on principle, its a no brainer that the Liberals would vote Yes and the NDP would vote No.

    Anyways, we'll see if the Liberals stand on politics or principle.

  36. Shadow

    Some de-regulation of the broadcasting, and telecom sectors is overdue.

    But hey when has principle, ever stood in the way of politics.

  37. Kevin one of the things i've found damaging about the minority situation is the behaviour of the BQ and the NDP.

    Everything is always a race to say "no", even when they agree, so that they can embarrass the Liberals when they vote yes to avoid an election.

    The media is to blame as well, so is Ignatieff when he tried to do the same thing last fall to pin down the NDP.

    I think for now on the way the opposition needs to look at things is to evaluate them as good or bad and vote accordingly, instead of fighting amongst themselves to see who is the most anti-Harper.

  38. Shadow

    The NDP, and the BLOC have been irresponsible opposition parties, ever since Harper came to office.

    The NDP made great hay of the fact that they voted againt harper 87 (or whatever the number is) straight times)

    They were always secure in the knowledge, that the Libs were not going to vote with them they were safe.

    Layton, Mulcair, Davies, Dewar, etc etc were always on TV boasting of that fact. They were quite the chest puffers.

    Iggy made a tactical error last September by coming out and saying "Mr Harper your time is up"
    What he should have said was "As the official opposition, we have no confidence in the Harper government, if one of the other parties wants to support them fine.
    That way he wouldn't have looked like such a goof.

    The NDP would have still folded, and he would have come off looking better.

    Jack and Jill were alway's going to vote against Harper no matter what. Layton even declared his party would not vote for a budget they hadn't even seen.

    When the libs turned the tables on them it was truly hilarious to watch them all over TV, saying they would support, on the flimsy excuse of supporting the home renovation tax credit (which they had earlier voted against)

    The media never called them on all their earlier prognosticatios, about harper, and their ad nauseum complaining about his government.

    The contortions they wen't through after changing positions was quite funny to watch.

    Watching them rise one by one in the HOC to vote in support of the government was truly hilarious.

    As for the BLOC, they will always do whats best fot the BLOC.

    The media was always on the libs tail if they voted for the government they were weak, if they opposed they were power hungry, I mean it must be nice to go through life having everything both ways.

    The libs have always had to try and be a responsible opposition, because Jack and Jill just act like a couple of spoiled four year olds all the time.

    Now the NDP is in the box, they finally have to act like a responsible opposition party, and realize you just can't vote no for the sake of voting no.

    They voted against the Haper government after the last throne sppech, just after we had had an election. Nobody every brought it to their attention, that we can't have elections every three or four months.

    Sorry to blather on here but the thought of such craven , cavalier, irresponsibility on the part of Jack and Jill truly makes my blood boil.

  39. Well, my opinion is, Jack is probably the second most influential member in the NDP's history. Lets not forget that the changes brought on, either forced through or in collaboration with the Liberals, by Tommy Douglas' leadership in those three consecutive Liberal minority governments.

    Sure, Jack has a lot of numbers and a lot of influence, but he has never really wielded it. The 2005 budget was the "NDP" budget, but it had nothing too radical that Martin's government wouldn't accept it. He hasn't brought on any other major changes, and he is an adequate rally-around-the-flag leader. He hasn't earned the support or the respect Broadbent and Douglas did, which means that he has fallen behind on two key points.

    God speed his recovery and all that, but lets not act as if the guy will be little more than a footnote in Canadian history.

  40. Volkov even certain PMs will be little more than footnotes in Canadian history.

    I think we should judge people by their contemporary impact and in that regard Jack Layton has been gathering strength.

    Its funny that people like Martin and Dion have won far more seats then Layton and yet looking back I see those Liberal leaders as losers and Layton as a winner.

  41. Tell me, what has Jack done? He's managed to get his party a lot of influence, yet he has rarely used it. Why? Because he either doesn't know how to use it, or for some reason refuses to. A man in his position could have done so much more to bring the social democratic change to Canada that he wants, yet he has done nothing that will have even close to a lasting impact. Can you name one thing, on par with the healthcare brought on by Tommy Douglas, or pensions by Coldwell and the Labour movement?

    The man is a classic politician who does nothing to make an impact in history, yet does everything to get attention now. He is short sighted and not long term. He will be a footnote.

    Now, lets look at Martin. What will he be remembered for? Well, sure, his premiership was short and he didn't get a lot done, but he has been a key figure in the country's finances, in the Liberal Party's history of infighting and organization, and the list goes on.

    Dion? Not much to say, no - but he will be more noted than Jack because of the Clarity Act, which unless he redeems himself as a minister in an Iggy government, will be his lasting legacy.

    Jack? He played a part in the coalition deal. Thats it. Nothing else with long term impact. Nothing that will be noted in the history books. He is not on par with Douglas, with Broadbent, or half of the labour leaders back in the day. He is the NDP's nightmare of having a standard politician in charge.

    Unless you start listing off the huge accomplishments of the Layton reign in the NDP which will be remembered 30 years from now, you best back down.

  42. Volkov you're arguing against a point I did not make.

    I already agreed that Layton will be of no historical import. For that matter, beyond the 30 year time frame you cited, I seriously doubt Dion or Martin will be remembered much either (not really sure Harper has done anything that jumps out either).

    My point is that we should judge people by their contemporary importance.

    A somewhat seperate metric is who feels like a winner and who feels like a loser.

    This is nessecarily graded on a curve, based on expectations and what you started out with.

    Jack taking the NDP and rebuilding it, turning it into a force seems more praiseworthy then Martin taking a Liberal majority and ushering in a Conservative minority.

    Or Dion getting the worst Liberal election result since confederation.

    Trajectory and momentum, net change, these are the things that matter when we make these judgements.

    And i'm willing to give Layton his dues, even if I disagree with almost all his policies.

  43. Volkov

    Even though Layton did increase the vote total, and number of seats of the NDP, he did do nothing to advance social democratic change.

    I think another yardstick he should be measured by is his decision in 2006 to help defeat the Martin government.

    When that happened two key issues that progressive voters care about died. The Kelowna accord, and child care.

    Is it a stretch to say that in the end, Layton actually did more harm than good to the social democratic cause.?

  44. Kevin its undeniable that an NDP government or Liberal/NDP coalition would do more for Jack's issues than a Liberal gov't.

    So Jack is getting his party strong enough to get into a good position to make that happen.

    Considering he isn't done yet its a little premature to make these final judgements.

  45. I don't mean to downplay Layton's accomplishments, but I'm not sure I would rank him as highly in the pantheon of NDP leaders.

    1. All four of the provinces where he beats Broadbent are small provinces where the NDP has an edge because of Alexa McDonough.

    2. While Layton's election totals are close to Broadbent's, Broadbent was a better inter-election performer. He was considered as a prospective Prime Minister, and even out-polled both major parties on some occasions. Broadbent got Canadians to consider the prospect of an NDP government that (unfortunately for the NDP) was largely squandered by Bob Rae's disastrous tenure in Ontario.

    3. In terms of influence, a minority parliament should have been a boon to the NDP. Whereas Tommy Douglas leveraged his position successfully, Layton has not. The 2005 budget and the passage of tepid EI reforms in 2009 are basically it.

    4. Layton's strongest claim to being one of the greats is his role in the coalition. Had it succeeded, I think you would have a good case for Layton being in the pantheon. However, it didn't succeed, and Layton must bear some of the blame for that. Giving Dion a central role was an unmitigated disaster, as was bringing the separatists on board so visibly.

    5. Finally it is not clear to me that Jack Layton has really changed how Canadians think, or injected anything new into the public discourse (I guess he was ahead of the crowd on negotiating with the Taliban). Cutting ATM fees? His leadership represents the triumph of style over substance.

    I wish Jack Layton a speedy recovery. Indeed, Layton will need more time if he is to be considered one of the greats.


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