I think there is a lot of exaggeration on the part of Liberals and even some New Democrats about Trudeau's strengths and a denial of some of the dynamics of the election. Liberals like to think that Trudeau was this grand near-invincible greatness. We see Liberals telling us over and over that the Liberal leader has qualities that made the last election a foregone conclusion, and more dangerously they claim the next as well. While Liberal hubris might be entertaining to watch, those who buy in to it from the opposition might make the wrong decisions about what to do next.
In the last election a majority who wanted Harper gone were prepared to go with either the NDP or Liberals to accomplish that. Today, in their infatuation, Liberals fail to recognize the power of that movement. Both then-opposition parties bashed each other because they understood that in many respects the race was between them and only a draw could lead to the Conservatives remaining in power.
The NDP did a bad campaign on several fronts and the Liberal campaign was better. Just enough better to tip the scales towards them. It could have gone the other way. I do not need at this point to go into the deficiencies of the NDP campaign except to say the party failed both pro-actively and reactively.
The reason the NDP fell so quickly has nothing to do with Trudeau, however. Trudeau won the edge in a battle to see which of the two was strongest to take down Harper and then the weight of the ABC campaign moved to him. Yet still Trudeau has one of the thinnest mandates ever.
The previous three years should be instructional: NDP ahead significantly, then Trudeau convention bounce, then NDP coming back, and then Trudeau coming back. What you can see here is that there never really was any enduring tie between the NDP and the Liberals, something that should give you a clue as to what was really happening. Any slight lead was a magnet for the support of the weight of the ABC movement which started in strength upon the shock of the Harper Majority in 2011 and had been the prevailing political dynamic right through the election. This dynamic meant every edge was amplified. The FPTP system has left Liberals with a rather inaccurate view of their real mandate or why they have it.
Of course Trudeau has positives, but for those not completely drunk on Kool-Aid he has negatives that are significant such that he is not so much stronger than any other leader who has taken power. This runs contrary to the contemporary Dragon Slayer myth of his followers. Following the election he has a significant honeymoon, driven by the satisfaction of having beaten Harper, which no doubt even includes some gratitude for that service, and contrast in terms of the optics of the government. It will take some time before this government is measured on more than optics, but that will come and certainly it will arrive before the next election.
The delusional fantasy of the invincible Trudeau is not only offensive because it is clearly meant to be by those who gloat about it, it also represents a misunderstanding of what happened last year, or at least the “why.” Liberals see the victory as about them when that is a small part of it. This politically narcissistic tendency can be seen in some Liberal supporters here.
Trudeau did not manage to win a particularly strong percentage of regular voters, his victory remained below 40% even after benefitting from a significant pool of people who do not normally vote, but who came out to drive a stake in the cold heart of the Harper government. That done, it remains to be seen if this support remains engaged in politics, nevermind glued to the Liberal party.
The NDP as well has to be realistic lest they make mistakes to compound the previous ones. The NDP were in it. The Liberals were not unbeatable. The NDP blew the campaign on several points and Mulcair did some damage within his party due to the kinds of positions and the apparent poor fit between him and the party's social democratic philosophy. In many respects, the NDP has to face the fact that there was a significant rejection of their leader, even if that only set a tipping point for the larger movement of the ABC movement to the Liberals. Some of this rejection was founded in statements Mulcair made and some was founded in the perception that he was less than sincere the few times he did mouth NDP values. However, these issues were hugely amplified by the weight of a large number of people with virtually no loyalty for neither the NDP nor the Liberals but who just wanted Harper gone. Once the Liberals passed them by a hair, the NDP went into an unstoppable free-fall.
There are warnings for the future. For the NDP, the danger might be seen as disunity but there is also risk of a false unity behind a leader who may in the end create more disunity. The party needs a leader that truly represents the membership's values and aspirations. Mulcair is not it. There is no need for a lurch to the left for the party except for the people who have always resided there. It is more a collective realization that the leader and campaign was a disaster, that the party was not too far wrong, yet the leader certainly was. Huge changes to the leadership are essential; more openness and greater connection to members is essential; a leader that can communicate a passion for social democratic values of inclusiveness and equality in a positive way is essential; a greater confidence in the presentation of the NDP's values in practice -- the platform -- is required. The NDP put forward a fairly good platform but campaigned on it so tentatively that observers and members alike had every reason to question the commitment and confidence of both leader and party. As well the NDP cannot argue its way to victory from the mouth of a lawyer but instead inspire. Again Mulcair is not the right person for this.
Going forward the NDP must guard against a lack of confidence, such as what we are seeing now where a large body of the membership are saying openly that their roundly defeated leader is not replaceable. They must guard against the idea that they cannot put up a new leader who could win – even in the next election. And most of all, the NDP must not give up on the values and principles that are the reason they exist as a movement. This idea that you must give up principle, downplay longstanding commitments you have made in a platform just to win is a fantasy that should have been broken by this last election, but sadly it is now colouring the party’s approach to a leadership review.
As well the party must apply a sense of imagination. i could write a long piece on that but hopefully some can see what I mean read widely.
The NDP does have a core problem that needs to be discussed and I have been trying to promote an understanding of this idea. The party has a lost generation. The period from which the leaders of today would have been expected to come from was the worst in the party’s history. In the 2011 election, the party reached out well to a new generation that may include the leaders of tomorrow. But the party has not been able to bring in a replacement for the lost cohort of the 1990s – the people who should now be the leadership group. If the party recognized this, it might reach out beyond its politically established individuals, to find people outside the party who are of the age and accomplishment needed now. Instead we either have people trying to hold on to Mulcair like a life preserver or tout the possible leadership of people who are as young as in their twenties who may have future aspirations but well understand that this is not yet their time. This is not a reason to hold on to Mulcair, but it may be an explanation as to why so many are afraid of letting him go. The best replacement for Mulcair may not presently be in the NDP. This is why I suggested as an example a person like Dr. Joanne Liu who is the type of person the party should be looking to now. There are, I am sure many others.
We must not indulge the Liberals and their Dragon Slayer myths and we must not presume that the next election is already lost. Even more significant, we must not presume that the social democratic foundations of the NDP are a liability. We should recognize that the election was closer than it appeared at the end. There is a taste in the public for what the NDP has long stood for and, I believe personally that, had that been delivered, we would have the first NDP national government today.
For now, we should avoid the suggestion that we either have to keep Mulcair or undertake some lurch to the left. Either would only serve the Liberals. The NDP’s centre long had a place, a purpose, and a vision worth presenting to Canadians as a government. If it forgets these things the party will be in a long wilderness or eventually replaced -- as it should.