Canada’s centrist New Democratic Party (the NDP) has elected a new leader, Thomas Mulcair, following the premature passing of the previous incumbent, Jack Layton. Mulcair, who won through from a field of several candidates, is seen as a controversial choice by some journalists and commentators. Until relatively recently a member of the Liberal Party and generally considered more right-wing than the party has a whole (though that is debatable) the rivalry between Mulcair and his rivals was at times quiet bitter and a number of high-profile resignations have already taken place from within NDP ranks following his victory. On the other hand as a Québec-based candidate (with dual French and Canadian nationality) he seems best placed to build upon the party’s fragile electoral base. Though the NDP is a Canadian federalist group with grassroots support throughout the country, at the level of Canada’s federal parliament, the House of Commons, it is principally composed of MPs from Québec, a province where the party has little organisation and is heavily reliant on disaffected Québécois or Québec nationalist voters for support. It was the unexpected winning away of those voters from the nationalist Bloc Québécois (BQ) in the Canadian general election earlier this year that brought the NDP to national importance after a long history of being the also-rans of Canadian politics, giving it a slew of new MPs.
If the NDP wishes to remain as an active force in Canadian federal politics it needs to retain and expand its Québec vote. As it is, a number of recent polls have shown that the BQ’s provincial sister party, the Parti Québécois (PQ), which has traditionally governed Québec, seems set on achieving an electoral victory over its Liberal Party rivals in the province in the forthcoming May elections to form the next government in Quebec City. If that was to happen the presence of a Québécois “separatist” strain within the NDP may well come to the fore, allowing those sympathetic to the PQ’s aim of holding another referendum on independence for Québec to influence the party’s policies on the issue. The NDP has normally shied away from making its position clear on the controversial Canadian federal legislation that insists on a “clear majority” in favour of independence in any referendum vote held in Québec. Some local NDP members in fact continue to support the traditional democratic Québécois nationalist position of “50% plus 1” espoused, by amongst others, the BQ and PQ.
If the NDP, or a section of it, was perceived to be “unsound on the national question” (as we might say in Ireland), it might have fatal results for its electoral fortunes outside of Québec, especially in the party’s traditional heartlands in the west of the country. So Thomas Mulcair faces an uncomfortable balancing act between the electoral needs and self-interest of his own party, and the separate and at times competing demands of voters in Canada and Québec. But then he wouldn’t be the first Canadian politician to fall from a height when faced with that particular challenge.
One final question, though, for all my Québécois friends. Where are the Coalition Avenir Québec and the much-heralded brave new world of Québec politics? Neither federalist nor separatist, has the party’s identity crisis already doomed it?
- Aboriginal Sensitivities (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Mulcair, Harper allies in plotting Liberals’ demise (cbc.ca)
- Yaffe: Harper hardly shaking in his boots over Mulcair (vancouversun.com)
- Hébert: Has Stephen Harper met his match? (thestar.com)
- Tim Harper: NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair returns to a tougher neighbourhood – Toronto Star (thestar.com)