This Thursday Jack Layton will arrive in Montreal for a huge rally in the riding of Jeanne-Le-Ber, one of many seats that the NDP suddenly find itself competitive in as Layton fever sweeps the province. The rally, taking place at 5PM at the Corona Theatre (2490, Notre-Dame O) is a homecoming of sorts for Quebec’s newest favourite son.
Considering that the NDP was at lower than 2% in the 2000 election, it’s almost inconceivable that the party now finds itself in second place to the Bloc Quebecois. The latest Angus Reid poll put them at 24%, and they have been at or over 20% in almost all polls released since the beginning of the campaign. In fact, as polls taken on different days and by different companies bounce around like some sort of electoral yo-yo, the consistency of NDP support in Quebec is startling.
So what accounts for this stratospheric increase in NDP support in this province, and is it a permanent marriage, or merely a temporary fling for my fellow Quebecois?
All indications are that this is no one-nighter and that the NDP is here to stay as a force on the federal level. In every election since Jack Layton assumed the leadership of the NDP in 2003, the party has posted significant gains. From 4.6% in 2004 to 7.5% in 2006 to 12.5% in 2008. This last result was undoubtedly aided by Thomas Mulcair’s by-election victory in Outremont in 2007, a feat the party’s deputy leader repeated in the 2008 general election, proving once and for all that the NDP was capable of winning in Quebec.
The truth is Quebecers are increasingly falling head over heels into Jackmania, and the only cure is more votes and more seats.
Our long lost native son has succeeded in reshaping the image of a party long seen as too centralizing for Quebecers, and Layton seems to have truly gained the trust of this province with his relentless championing of social issues important to us.
While the Bloc and NDP share many platform points when it comes to fighting for the rights of regular people, rather than the major corporations whose interests the Liberals and Conservatives seem to represent, Quebecers are losing faith in the Bloc’s ability to achieve its goals.
Of hundreds of bills proposed by the Bloc since their inception, they’ve managed to pass three, two of which were to change the names of ridings. There is also a lingering distrust of the Bloc’s commitment to their platform since they voted against $4.6 billion of new funding for social housing, education, healthcare and other social programs. Rather than supporting this new funding, negotiated by the NDP to save Paul Martin’s government, and which they had promised to fight for in their platform, the Bloc chose to oppose it in order to gain a few new seats.
As Tom Mulcair is fond of saying, the Bloc is very good at playing defence, but you can’t win a hockey game with five defencemen.
So as the Bloc slides, a process sure to accelerate after the looming departure of Gilles Duceppe for the provincial arena, the NDP is the party best positioned to take up the progressive flag of Quebecers concerned more with social programs and a just society than doling out favours like corporate tax cuts to the giant corporations that bankroll the Libs and Cons.
Considering that 45% of Bloc supporters identify their second choice as the NDP, it isn’t hard to see why disillusionment with the Bloc is resulting in a surge in NDP support.
What is harder to measure is how this new-found support, which is quite evenly distributed across the province, will translate into seats in our out-moded first past the post system.
While La Presse’s riding poll of Outremont shows a 20% lead for Mulcair over his Liberal rival (and former justice minister) Martin Cauchon, increasing numbers of other ridings appear to be in play. Gatineau and Hull-Aylmer seem likely to fall to the NDP while even the northernmost riding in Quebec, Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou could see an upset by star NDP candidate Romeo Saganash, a leader in the Cree community there.
Meanwhile, if NDP gains continue many Montreal ridings could fall to the orange wave sweeping the province.
Full disclosure, I am currently a member of NDP central campaign staff in Quebec for this election. As such, it’s sometimes hard not to pinch myself when I wake up in the morning. But this is no dream.
Quebecers are flocking to a party that is first and foremost honest about its intent and is also clear on who it represents. The NDP is and always has been a party that seeks to get the best deal possible for the oppressed and marginalized in our society.
The party that brought us medicare has been no less clear on where it stands in this election. Promising to radically overhaul funding for post-secondary education and freeze and reduce tuition, legislate net neutrality, hire more doctors and nurses and strengthen pensions. They’re promising to cut taxes on small businesses and reward job creators while raising the Corporate taxes that Harper has unconscionably lowered. They’ll also cap credit card rates at 5% + Prime, take federal tax off home heating oil and give us control over our cell phone bills. Social Housing that we desperately need will be a priority, as always, for the NDP.
Ultimately, the determining factor in how many of those Quebecers who now find themselves supporting the NDP actually make it to the ballot box to vote will depend entirely on how successful we are in mobilizing them. The NDP’s key disadvantage is that the Liberals and Bloc have well oiled electoral machines in Quebec, which are capable of keeping their voters in the fold and driving them to the polls.
If we can field an ever-growing team of volunteers in this election, then we have a real shot at many ridings here in Montreal.
So this election, please don’t just vote NDP, volunteer for the NDP. Because this is history in the making, and you don’t want to miss it.
To volunteer for the NDP please phone Ethan directly at 514-662-0070. The Jack Layton rally will be held at the Corona Theatre (2490 Notre Dame W.) at 5PM this Thursday, April 14.
Images: ctv.ca and ndp.ca