Monday, August 29, 2011

Jack Layton secures his place in NDP – and Canadian – pantheon

On Saturday, Canadians said goodbye to their Leader of the Official Opposition and one of the most popular political figures in the country. New Democrats laid to rest the most successful party leader in their history, and a man whose name will likely be repeated in future with the same reverence as that reserved for Tommy Douglas, first head and spiritual heart of the NDP. 

The 2011 election was, by far, the NDP’s best result in its 50 year history. Even against the standards of the Liberals and the Conservatives, Jack Layton’s achievement on May 2 was remarkable. At 103 seats, Mr. Layton tied for the fifth largest opposition ever sent to Ottawa in the 41 elections that have taken place since 1867. But even before 2011’s historic result, Jack Layton stacked up well against the party’s two other great leaders. 

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here. 

Such a list of accomplishments might seem unattainable by any other leader of the New Democrats. Did the party hit its peak under Jack Layton? Time will tell, and the race to become the next leader of the NDP is underway. Of the three vacant postings on Parliament Hill, this is the most attractive but it is no more of an easy assignment than the leadership of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. Those two parties have hit rock bottom, and there is only one way to go from there. For the NDP, the next leader needs to hold on to Layton's success and improve upon it.

Four years is a long time, however. Certainly long enough for the next leader to put his or her stamp on the party and prepare it for the 2015 election.

This isn't the first time that an NDP leader has had this long to prepare for an election. Ed Broadbent in 1975 and Audrey McLaughlin in 1989 each had four years to prepare. Broadbent used the time wisely and grew his party's support, while McLaughlin led the party to its worst ever result. So history is no guide in this regard.

The Liberals under Jean Chrétien had three years to prepare for the 1993 election, and were swept to power. Jean Charest took over the PCs in 1993 and increased the party's caucus from two to 20 MPs four years later.

Likely the biggest event to take place outside of the NDP's control between now and 2015 is the Quebec provincial election. What happens there could play a huge role in how Quebecers feel about its adherence to the NDP at the federal level. Whether it be through a sovereigntist re-birth or the rise of the right under François Legault, it could hurt them. If the result of the election and a failure on the part of the new (or re-elected) government leads to another backlash against the establishment parties, it could boost them. We shall see.


  1. BC Voice of Reason29 August, 2011 10:48

    "The evil that men do lives after them,
    The good is oft interred with their bones"

    The fawning press seems to be doing the opposite. The modest accomplishments of Mr. layton consist mainly in the political arena - the good fortune to attract the fickle Quebec voters and affable beer drinking skills.

    There is not any significant legislation that he introduced or brought into law. His main accomplishment is with Toronto's homeless people.

    His lasting legacy -

    When the dust settles he will be best known for running secret meetings (that got leaked) which would have had the worst Liberal leader ever , Dion, fresh from a thrashing at the polls, serve as PM with himself in Cabinet.

    He was also the architect of the great Finance Minister's Paul Martin last budget. The Liberal party has not yet recovered and might not.

  2. BC VoR,

    You're an $%&hole.

    Please, please, please post this Eric.

  3. Dear me ??

    SOUR barely describes that ??

  4. BC Voice of Reason29 August, 2011 11:41


    Thank you for showing the socialist mentality that Mr. Layton worked so hard to neutralize.

    Apparently he was wasting his time.

    Any list of Mr. Layton's accomplishments.... other than the affable Beer Drinking Buddy does not stand up to scrutiny.

    His "straight forward honest way of doing politics" was part of the most rancorous, bitter, nasty parliament of all time. The NDP caucus under Mr. Layton's leadership with Mr. Pat Martin, Ms. Davies and Mr. Mulclair provided constant examples of ratcheting up the vitriol.

  5. Eric

    I have to agree with both Volkov and Anon 11:10

    BC VoR has certainly painted himself as ??

    Considering Layton is barely in the ground !!

  6. Methinks BC VoR and his ilk are afraid that Mr. Layton may become larger in death than in life, an unstoppable wave. They are incapable of understanding love, hope, optimism, generosity, compassion, equality; unlike most Canadians, especially younger Canadians.

    South Parkdale Jack

  7. BCVOR has every right to share his opinion on Jack Layton without coming under a wave of personal attacks.

    Is this not an article that critically examines Jack Layton's accomplishments ?

    Jack Layton's role in the coalition crisis will most certainly be part of his history as well as the Martin budget.

    We can agree or disagree in a civil manner whether those are good or bad things.

    Volkov and Peter shame on you. You've let your head go to mush with sentiment and have betrayed Jack Layton's dying wishes to behave in a more civil manner to your fellow Canadians.

    Turn the other cheek much ?

  8. Some of you should get your head out of your bubble. Did you not hear the hundreds of tributes from ordinary citizens whose lives were personally touched by Jack Layton. Beer drinking buddy indeed!

  9. Anon 13:40 etc.

    1. I'm generally not a civil person to begin with, so stfu (kidding, I like people, just not people who act like BC VoR).

    2. If BC VoR has a right to share his opinion, then we have the same right to share our opinions about his opinion. It isn't as if I've said he should be nailed to a cross, but I reserve the right to call out anyone who acts like an arse. That's just my freedom of speech rights.

    3. BC VoR pretty much pissed on Layton, then proceeded to chastise people about how they were betraying Jack's legacy and final wishes. How much more hypocritical and cruel can you get?

    Plus, I'm honest. I thought that was a virtue. But regardless, Eric doesn't need this cluttering up his website.

    Good article Eric.

  10. Goaltender Interference29 August, 2011 14:43

    OK, I'll mention Jack Layton's two biggest accomplishments:
    (1) knocking the Liberals into third place (first time in 150 years) and
    (2) eviscerating the Bloc Quebecois, which had won six majorities in Quebec in a row and was poised to win a seventh. It's a bit much for conservatives in May to invoke the horrors of a separatist party potentially sharing power in Ottawa, and then in August turn around and belittle the massive defeat of said separatist party (especially when the Conservatives did absolutely nothing to help said defeat, having lost yet more votes in Quebec).

    BCVoR, you say that Quebecers are "fickle" but what do you base this on? You can't call yourself a voice of reason if you don't have reasons. It seems odd to accuse people of being fickle for changing parties after voting for the same party six times in a row.

    It has been my experience that people call Quebecers "fickle" when they don't follow Quebec politics except through outside-Quebec filters, and therefore have no idea what motivates Quebec voters. It's like calling British Columbians "fickle" because they change their sales tax every couple of years.

  11. Average Canuck29 August, 2011 15:32

    Volkov personal attacks shut down free speech.

    What Jack Layton would have done is said (with a smile) well I disagree and here's why ...

    If Eric is going to write an article touting Jack Layton's historical accomplishments then its obvious there will be comments from detractors.

    The idea that its "too soon" to think critically is just silly. That's a betrayal of a historian's craft, to faithfully record what actually happened - the bad and the good.

    We should avoid hero worship and sainthood for our politicians.

    Eric brings up Tommy Douglas.

    In his masters thesis at McMaster TD recommended the castration of homosexuals and chronic criminals.

    Maybe LGBT Canadians would have like to have known this before he was named the greatest Canadian, no ?

    That's why its so important that we record it all and try not to white wash someone's life after they die.

  12. Good post Eric:
    Actually I thought soon after May 2 that all five elected parties have strong challenges in their attempt to grow and/or survive. The Tories need to overcome Canadians' natural tendency to tire of their governments, the NDP needs to prove it is the government in waiting, the Liberals need to get their acts together and prove they give a damn, the Bloc needs to rebuild its separatist base and the Greens must start showing voters they can take the Liberals' spot in the center.
    That hasn't changed since Layton's death. What has changed is the right-leaning anti-Layton rhetoric of the past few days.
    Attacking the NDP and Layton as socialist/separatist might seem like a good ploy for the CPC supporters, but what it actually does is open up space in the center for the Liberals to once again occupy.
    In other words, if the CPC mud flingers are as successful in painting the NDP as far left socialists in voters minds, as they have been slagging Dion and Iggy, they will ironically be helping their arch enemies, the Liberals, back into power.
    So keep up the good work.

  13. BC VoR isn't being exactly truthful about the extent of Layton's accomplishments as he would know if he lived in Toronto. Layton was instrumental in introducing various measures that forever changed the urban culture of Toronto, including the blue box, bike lanes, urban environmentalism and affordable & supportive housing. Jack left a permanent mark on my home city, and his accomplishments are pretty impressive considering that he was never in government.

  14. TS,

    Well there's no doubt that Layton had a fairly distinguished career as a Toronto City counsellor, but city counsellors don't get state funerals, or fill the pages of national newspapers, whatever their achievements.

    In terms of Layton's achievements at the federal level, it's just too soon to tell. Prior to the 2011 election, he would have been seen as just another NDP leader (i.e., people respect him, but never suceeded politically).
    So 2011 makes all the difference.

    Yes, he led to NDP to a stunning victory in Quebec in 2011 (and performed well in the rest of the country, lest we forget). But the same could have been said of Robert Thompson and the Social Credit party in 1962 (if you said "who" or "what", I rest my case). To describe their impact on Canadian Federal (and Quebec) politics as anything more than ephemeral would be charitable. And it's not as if the rest of Canada hasn't been subject to the odd, short-term, NDP uprising (see Rae, Bob). The question is whether the 2011 election was a fluke (a function of fatigue with the Bloc and a thoroughly incompetent Liberal party), like the 1962 election (or the 1990 Ontario election), or whether it represented a sea change in Canadian politics.

    If, come 2015, the NDP manages to hold onto its seats in Quebec and its status of official opposition and keep the Liberals down, then I think it's fair to say that Layton (along with Harper, as arguably the two have helped one another) fundamentally changed Canadian politics in the 21st century.

    If, on the other hand, come 2015, the NDP's Quebec seats scatter like seeds in the wind, and the Liberals (and/or the Bloc) re-emerge as a viable political party. Then Layton will be remembered as the most successful NDP leader in history (which is indisputable at this point) and as a man who, but for his untimely death, MIGHT have fundamentally changed Canadian politics.

  15. One thing that seems to be missing from the comments is that Jack vaulted the NDP into second place. Now in the mind of voters, it is a choice between the NDP and the conservatives and no longer the NDP is irrelevant. People now can watch what the NDP has to say, the media will give them more coverage. It seems in Canadian politics (or any political system that has FTTP system) that cracking the top 2 is a very hard thing to do for 3rd parties.

  16. Nazar,

    Sure, now the NDP's in second place and will get all the attention that comes with that. But attention is a two-edged sword. It means that the next time Libby Davies or Thomas Mulclair say something loony, the response won't be "oh, those wacky NDP", it'll be "my god, that could be Canada's next foreign/finance minister". Those are the sort of mistakes that leave lasting impressions (just look how long it took Harper to shake off the "hidden agenda" label).

    It's going to be an even bigger problem for the NDP then it was a couple of years ago, given the inexperience of a sizable chunk of their caucus. That isn't a critique of the NDP in particular, that's a problem common to all parties who experience rapid growth in their caucus - think of the Reform Party in 1993, the Ontario NDP in 1990, the PC's in '84 - they tend to be filled with people who say, and do, silly things. Both the Liberals and the Tories (to say nothing of the media) are no doubt licking their lips waiting for the inevitable round of first-term gaffes.

    The NDP's new found prominence also means that voters may actually read their platform or inquire as to who their local candidate is (and do they speak French?) in the next election. And it means that the media will no longer give them the superficial (and largely uncritical) coverage they got before.

    We've certain seen other parties suddenly burst into the spotlight, only to flame-out in the next election (think Action Democratique), and there's no reason to think that the NDP is immune. I expect that the NDP is going to find the next four years very different from, and much more difficult then, their previous experiences. We'll see whether they have the chops to handle it.

  17. @Carl,

    I agree with you that the extra media coverage is a two edge sword. However, I think the downside for being a 3rd party is larger by far than the downside for a 2nd or 1st party. Let me elaborate on this more.

    In the case that the NDP has a good crop of candidates and a good leader, a 2nd party will benefit much more than a 3rd party will do. The extra factor is that they are a real choice now in the mind of voters and the vast majority of voters who don't look at local polls will actually give them a chance without the worry of electability. In this case, the upside when the NDP has a good platform, leaders and candidates is much higher when it is a second party as opposed to being a third party. There is evidence for that in the Tommy Douglas years in Saskatchewan because he was well liked, a good leader with actual results. I agree in the case if he screwed up, the NDP(or CCF in these years) would have gone back to oblivion like what happened in ontario with Bob Rae.

    In the case case the NDP has bad leader, bad platform and bad candidates, I would say that the downside when it is 2nd party or a 3rd party is quite similar. I agree that the downside for a 2nd party is larger, but it is not much larger than being a 3rd party because a 3rd party has always to be really good to increase its votes, it goes to oblivion when it has bad leadership, bad circumstances like what happened to the NDP in 1993 where they went down to 9 seats.

    I also want to add that Quebec politics and voters are quite different from the rest of the country. They will give a good look to 3rd parties or new parties while the rest of the country has a less tendency to do that. Quebecers are more rebellious and will punish establishment parties when they are bad as opposed to the rest of the country which will give establishment parties free passes because they value government experience much more.

  18. "I also want to add that Quebec politics and voters are quite different from the rest of the country. They will give a good look to 3rd parties or new parties while the rest of the country has a less tendency to do that."

    I'm not sure that's true, or at least it hasn't been true historically. After all both the conservatives and the NDP have their roots in newly formed, and decidedly anti-establishment, western parties. In that respect, Quebec has been a bit of a stick-in-the-mud in terms punishing "establishment" parties. Prior to 1993 Quebecers could consistently be expected to vote for the Liberals (which is why they dominated the Canadian political scene in the last century), and on the rare occasions they didn't (Dief in 58, Mulroney in the 80's) they chose the government, for which they received a reputation outside of Quebec (a reputation that, in retrospect, was perhaps not merited) for being canny strategic voters.

    But to your main point, I agree, it will all come down to leadership and platform. And, if one thinks that the NDP is strong in those respects, it's probably better to be official opposition than a third party in the house. Perhaps we just disagree in our assessments of the NDPs talent pool and the appeal of their policies.

  19. Hey Nazar: you make some good points about 2nd and 3rd parties, but those only work in the traditional sense, I would argue. In other words, the NDP is traditionally a 3rd party. And although they did well relatively speaking and came second outside of Quebec, it wasn't spectacular. A lot of those voters got caught up in the orange wave or shifted to CPC to stop it. If the NDP doesn't do spectacularly well in the next 4 years, voters on both sides of the spectrum could, and likely will, slip back to the Liberals.
    In Quebec, it's anybody's guess. So here goes mine. The NDP has hit the ceiling in that province and likely can't do better. If they slip in the next four years, I'd wager their vote will likely go Liberal or possibly CPC, although the latter is unlikely. The Bloc could be done like dinner. If that's the case, the Liberals should be able to make the most of any NDP slip.
    But with four years to go, who the hell knows? It's fun playing these mental masturbation games though.


COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.