Photo: New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair waves at the end of his concession speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
There were many factors that played into Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s unexpected majority government.
But in the opinion of this lifelong union activist and former NDP candidate, neither the much-maligned niqab, nor cynical strategic voting, played as much of a role in the NDP reversal of fortune as the decision to abandon its social democratic roots.
When the NDP holds a post mortem on the 2015 federal election, it can mark Tom Mulcair’s Aug. 25 visit to a small factory in London, Ontario as the day its promising lead in the polls took a nose-dive.
On that fateful day, Mulcair shocked his political base by announcing the NDP would deliver four years of balanced budgets, despite record low borrowing rates and growing evidence that Canada was slipping into another recession.
The Liberals pounced on this announcement, accusing the NDP of adopting a “Stephen Harper budget” that would inevitably lead to “severe austerity” measures.
Trudeau countered with an ambitious proposal to run an annual deficit of under $10 billion over three years to finance a multi-billion dollar public infrastructure investment program that would create thousands of jobs.
By thumbing his nose at the neo-liberal fiscal orthodoxy that has gripped this nation for two decades, Trudeau boxed the NDP into the same fiscal corner as the most unpopular prime minister in living memory.
Trudeau outflanked Mulcair just as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne had done in last year’s Ontario election, when she masqueraded as more left than Andrea Horwath’s NDP.
Fool me once, as the saying goes.
It was a masterful play that came at a time when the polls were reporting that 70% of Canadians were looking for change and many were considering the NDP.
This NDP budgetary misstep also revealed an inherent contradiction in Mulcair’s plan that undermined other popular planks in the NDP platform.
In particular, it gave rise to closer inspection of the crown jewel of the NDP platform – a $15-per-day universal childcare program.
What became apparent was that the protracted eight-year roll out for these one million childcare spaces was a direct result of Mulcair’s self-imposed fiscal constraints and his reticence to increase taxes on the wealthy.
In essence, the message to voters was one of fiscal conservatism over progressive public policy.
Suddenly, the Liberals, not the NDP, were able to present themselves as the agents of “real change”.
Many NDP members are asking themselves why their party tried to win government by accepting the campaign strategy of its opponents, rather than seeking to redefine politics.
Early in the marathon election campaign, Conservative-weary voters proved they were ready for some risk taking.
Early polls rewarded the NDP for adopting a principled opposition to Bill C51, committing to a $15 federal minimum wage and calling for the abolition of the Senate.
It was not the time to quit while they were ahead, or to be coy about their core values as social democrats, not when most voters were looking for bold change.
South of the border, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is making headlines and inspiring a generation with a bold critique of capitalism.
Across the pond, the moribund U.K. Labour Party has been reinvigorated with the election of Jeremy Corbyn and his unapologetic advocacy for a “return to the welfare state.”
New Democrats would be wise to wrap themselves in their social democratic values, rather than going to such great pains to disguise them.
This election served as a stark reminder that the NDP path to electoral success is inextricably tied to the courage of the party’s convictions.