Federal NDP membership surge undercuts Harper Conservative claim as voice of region in Western Canada

Feb 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building, 222 Bremner Blvd, in Canada’s most hated city : site of the NDP federal leadrership convention, March 23–24, 2012.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 23]. It is now a mere 30 days to the big New Democratic Party of Canada leadership vote, on March 24, 2012 — at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building, 222 Bremner Blvd. (Not the nicest address in Canada’s most hated city, but close to the lake in case a need arises to cool off some more hotheaded participants.)

Earlier this year many belittled the NDP leadership race as a snoozefest. But a week ago this past Monday the Vancouver Sun ran an article headlined “Newest polls put some spark in NDP race.”  Now such headlines as “NDP membership skyrockets heading into leadership vote” (Vancouver Sun again) and “NDP membership climbs by over 50 per cent since race began” (Toronto Star) have added still more sparks.

Some will complain that the details of the new membership surge only underline the difficulties  of capitalizing on the federal New Democrats’ surprise la-belle-province breakthrough in the May 2, 2011 federal election.

Thus the Globe and Mail has stressed “NDP membership blitz comes up short in Quebec … The fact Quebec now ranks third among provinces with 12,300 members is a small victory for the NDP, which had almost no card carriers in the province at the start of the campaign. But the number also highlights the failure by the party’s best-known politician … Thomas Mulcair, to reach his goal of attracting 20,000 members in the province.”

NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, NDP MPs Peter Stoffer and Charlie Angus in this file photo. Not the leading candidate but certainly the cutest. Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright.

(There have been understandable similar rumblings inside Quebec — along with some recognition that the percentage increase there has been much larger than anywhere else. See, eg, two reports in Le Devoir: “Course à la direction: le NPD compte 12 266 nouveaux membres québécois … En octobre, le parti ne comptait que 1700 membres au Québec” ; and “Chefferie du NPD — À peine 12 000 membres au Québec … Cela ne représente que 10% des quelque 128 000 membres enregistrés au pays … Si M. Mulcair disait en début de course espérer atteindre de 15 000 à 20 000 membres au Québec, son équipe s’est néanmoins dite satisfaite.”)

Say what you like, however. Despite some not exactly surprising slippage in recent opinion polls, the New Democrats still command more fresh ground in Quebec than either the Conservatives or the Liberals.  (See, eg: “The New Democratic Party still ranks first among federal voters in Quebec” ; and “NDP … remains the No. 1 choice for Quebecers.”) And, perhaps just as intriguingly, the new NDP membership surge shows that any Conservative efforts to write off today’s new New Democrats as just a “socialist” reprise of the fading old Central Canadian heartland in Ontario and Quebec will lack credibility in some very fundamental sense.

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Actress/director Sarah Polley has endorsed Peggy Nash in the federal NDP leadership race. Dave Abel/QMI Agency.

Consider the current regional breakdown of the 128,351 New Democrats who will now be eligible to participate in the election of a successor to the late Jack Layton on March 24:  British Columbia – 38,735 (30.2%) ; Ontario – 36,760 (28.6%) ; Quebec – 12,266 (9.6%) ; Manitoba – 12,056 (9.4%) ; Saskatchewan – 11,264 (8.8%) ; Alberta – 10,249 (8.0%) ; Nova Scotia – 3,844 (3.0%) ; Newfoundland and Labrador – 1,030 (0.8%) ; New Brunswick – 955 (0.7%) ; Territories – 924 (0.7%) ; and Prince Edward Island – 268 (0.2%).

(And see such related headlines as :  “Ontario, BC control NDP leader choice” [Halifax Chronicle Herald] ; and “Yaffe: BC wields out-sized influence in NDP leadership race,” “Mulcair is NDP leadership front-runner, but BC members hold cards,” and “BC a powerful player in NDP leadership race” [all three, not surprisingly, from the Vancouver Sun].)

So … whatever else, the deeper and wider new New Democratic Party of Canada that may or may not come out of its Toronto leadership convention on March 24 is at least beginning with a new mass base, that mirrors the rising importance of Western Canada in the cross-country economic geography. If the Harper Conservatives reflect some new alliance between Alberta and one side of Ontario, the (?Mulcair-Cullen?) New Democrats just may wind up reflecting some new alliance between BC  and another side of Ontario.

Meanwhile, the NDP still has more work to do in Quebec, no doubt. (And Ontario too perhaps?) But it also now has a francophone beachhead east of the Ottawa River that it has never had before — and that, at the moment, still outdoes the other federal parties. Quebec already has the third largest number of NDP members. Inside the new New Democratic Party of Canada Ontario and Quebec together almost match BC and Alberta together. And there are NDP provincial governments in Manitoba and Nova Scotia right now as well.

Unconfirmed rumours from Miami Beach say Kate Middleton rival Kim Kardashian may be about to endorse BC frontrunner Nathan Cullen. She apparently likes his progressive co-operation policy — and his haircut!

Oh, and btw, Bill Tieleman’s “The Case Against an NDP, Liberal, Green Coalition … Teaming up to defeat Harper’s Conservatives is undemocratic and won’t work,” in the excellent BC blog The Tyee, has just been countered by “In Defence of Cullen’s Idea for NDP, Liberal, Green Cooperation … Five rebuttals to Bill Tieleman’s objections to a winning plan for 2015.”

And, for whatever it may or may not be worth, we’re still standing solidly behind this site’s earlier enthusiasms in : “Two cheers for Nathan Cullen’s ‘plan to unite the ‘left’ that just might work’?” ; “More cheers for Nathan Cullen’s NDP leadership bid .. the new republic in Canada may be closer than we think?” ; and “Is Nathan Cullen the conscience of New Democrat race in Canada?” —  whatever may or may not finally happen on March 24.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 23: Andy Radia, in “NDP membership increase not as great as you might think,” points out that Conservative insider Stephen Taylor has thrown cold water on the cross-country absolute magnitude of the recent NDP leadership surge, compared to Conservative and Liberal surges just before what Taylor takes as their comparable leadership conventions.  Radia also points out that “Alice Funke of Punditsguide.ca notes the Bloc Quebecois have 36,341 members in Quebec compared to the NDP’s 12,266. ”

No doubt there are some apt enough caveats of caution at the bottom of this kind of cold water. But it remains a provocative enough truth that, along with still better Quebec polling results than either the federal Conservatives or Liberals — and a much larger new Quebec membership than it used to have — the membership base of the new New Democrats is showing its own tilt towards the rising regional profile of Western Canada.

Yes, Andy Radia is right when he says : “In some ways the New Democrats are still Canada’s third party.” And  this is one big reason that we think Nathan Cullen’s progressive co-operation policy makes a lot of sense.

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  1. LOL I will require a source on that Kardashian rumor…

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