Wednesday, April 27, 2011


By this time, virtually everything you read concerning #elxn41 and the final days before the vote is squarely focused on the rise of the NDP. We are seeing discussion of their national numbers, the story in Quebec and the growing sense that Jack Layton could replace Mr. Ignatieff as the Official Leader of the Opposition.

Yes, it's been quite a week.

For the Liberals, how the next few days play out could have a significant impact not just on how they do on May 2, but on their future. So, what happened?

To start, the Liberals tacked left and looked to make the campaign about a choice between the Conservative agenda and one which was more squarely focused on families. While they quite rightly argued that a sound economy should be rooted in strong a social foundation, their message did not catch.

This isn't to say that people don't like the message. The programme they put forward was intended to appear to NDP voters, women and students. Initially their strategy appeared to be working. They stayed on message, ran a disciplined campaign, and were receiving plaudits.

However, throughout the initial period leading up to the debates it appeared that voters were torn between the message and the messenger. Mr. Igantieff as a leader was simply not getting traction.

Queue the debates and the performance of Mr. Layton. While I was not overly impressed by him, many were - particularly in Quebec. By displaying equal measures of forcefulness and joviality, Mr. Layton looked principled and committed while Mr. Igantieff often appeared angry. It was Mr. Layton, and not Mr. Ignatieff who looked more likely to do what many Canadians want - find a way to make things work.

In hindsight, I think an element of his message was not so much "us or them", it was more "let's just get it done." In so doing, he appeared more above the fray (though not entirely).

This appears to have resonated most strongly in Quebec. If the polls are correct, the NDP could be on its way to an historic breakthrough in the province. For many, the NDP appears to offer a third way; a break from the traditional federalist-sovereignist divide.

They are offering a progressive, social democratic programme which is aligned with the views of many Quebecers. They are also increasingly speaking to a demographic that is removed from the old squabbles on national unity.

Think about this for a moment: We are 16 years removed from the last referendum, 31 years since the first referendum, 35 years since the historic PQ election and more than a generation since the Quiet Revolution.

For many voters in the province, the battles of the past are history; they represent the narrative of a different generation. The problems and opportunities of today are real and pressing and that is where they would prefer their politicians direct their energy. The Bloc looks faded in such a light; the NDP looks new and more engaged.

Of course, we still have a few days until the vote and much can happen. Ground game is an issue for the NDP, as is the possibility that the prominence of their story and the predictions of success could push people back to the Liberals. There are also real challenges with the costing of the NDP platform.

Mr. Ignatieff will hope that this proves to be the case. Despite running well and demonstrating passion and eloquence, he has been "poll axed" over the past week. Each new poll seems to make the story worse and the prospect of a bad defeat seem more likely. Momentum is a funny thing. It's hard to get, but when you do it can often take on a life of its own - a band wagon effect. When it's lost, it is very, very difficult to get back.

Mr. Layton appears to be benefitting from the former; Mr. Ignatieff suffering from the latter. One way or the other, May 2 is now shaping up to be more interesting than we thought at the outset of the campaign.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I just want Harper and his neo-cons gone. Ignatieff or Jack, I do not really care if it means Harper exits stage left.

    With regards to momentum, it would be really interesting to know how many anything-but-conservative voters who were prepared to give their vote to Ignatieff (because historically it's the only party to lead) will ultimately give their vote to Layton because of this momentum. Will it be enough for an NDP government? I'm not sure it's totally out of the realm of possibility.


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