Friday, May 11, 2012

Why the NDP's strategy might be working

When Thomas Mulcair became leader of the NDP, he promised a structured opposition that could take on the Conservative government. His strategy appears to be working.

Poll after poll has put the New Democrats neck-and-neck or ahead of the Conservatives, as yesterday’s Harris-Decima poll indicated. That survey pegged NDP support at 34 per cent, four points up on the Conservatives.

While some of this can be attributed to the honeymoon period that normally comes after a party selects a new leader, there might be more to the NDP’s good fortune.

Undoubtedly, Mulcair is benefiting from a series of bad headlines for the Conservatives. While any one of these stories might not have been enough to seriously dent the Tories’ support, the cumulative effect appears to have been quite damaging.

But on the other side of the aisle, the New Democrats are doing some of the right things. 

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

There was some talk on last night's At Issue panel about Thomas Mulcair's "Dutch Disease" comments and, as I've spelled out in my article which I wrote yesterday morning, I fall more on Chantal Hébert's side of the argument (usually the best place to be). Yes, these kinds of comments that criticize how the oil sands are being developed will win Mulcair no friends in certain parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but those people were unlikely to have been considering a vote for the New Democrats anyway.

By framing the debate on the oil sands as an economic one, it puts the NDP on the same playing field as the Conservatives. Whether or not Mulcair's argument is sound is another question entirely, but it is far easier to dismiss environmental arguments in favour of economic prosperity. Stéphane Dion's "Green Shift" is a quick-and-easy example of that.

Bruce Anderson suggested that this tactic polarizes the debate and pits region against region, but here again this is an example of the New Democrats meeting the Conservatives on the same level. Rather than having the two parties talk past each other, they are instead arguing with one another on the same terms. Idealism is great for a protest party, but it is not a vote winner. It can be argued that the Liberals took on the mantle of a protest party in the 2011 federal election more than the NDP did, and they were shunted off to third place as a result. Cynical it might be, but there are politics as they should be and then there are politics as they are. Mulcair's strategy is working so far, I would submit, because he is playing the game.