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article imageOp-Ed: NDP leader Mulcair will probably survive leadership review

By Ken Hanly     Mar 31, 2016 in Politics
The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) convention is scheduled for April 8 to 10 in Edmonton, Alberta. A new Ekos poll shows the party is polling the worst it has in well over a decade.
According to the Ekos poll, only 11.7 percent of Canadians support the NDP, down eight points since the October election, which was already low. In contrast, the Liberal Party under PM Justin Trudeau is up a further 2.6 percent to 42.1. The Conservatives under interim leader Rona Ambrose are at 31.7 percent, down marginally from the 31.9 percent they had at election time. Elizabeth May's Green Party is up 2.9 points at 6.4 percent.
While there have been some complaints about Mulcair's leadership, there does not seem to be any obvious alternative to run for the leadership against Mulcair or any well-organized opposition to his leadership. While party leader Rebecca Blaikie said Mulcair needs a 70 percent approval to remain as leader, the party constitution requires only 51 percent. Every party convention which is not a leadership convention requires a vote on whether there should be a leadership contest.
There is to be a Broadbent Institute conference in Ottawa this weekend. The leadership of the NDP is not on the agenda it is expected that NDP leadership will be a heated subject of discussion. Mulcair will attend part of the policy conference.
Ekos President Frank Graves notes it will be the estimated 1,500 NDP delegates who determine whether Muclair stays as leader, Mulcair's poll numbers will not help him:“That is the lowest number we have seen for an NDP party since 2003. Let’s put this in context. This is not good. How they decide to deal with the future is obviously their choice and he’s got all kinds of talent. But that is a pretty spectacular fall from grace.”
Mulcair's spokesperson, George Smith, noted that Graves did not test Mulcair's approval rating while other polls have shown he is supported by a majority of New Democrats. Smith questions whether party support figures are a true indicator of Mulcair’s support among New Democrats.
There have been drastic drops in support in some provinces. In British Columbia the NDP elected 14 MPs but party support has gone from 26 per cent of the vote on election day to only 9.9 percent support now. A similar decline is seen in Saskatchewan where the NDP at election time had 25 percent of the vote and elected three MPs. They now have just 9.1 percent of the vote. Even in Mulcair's home province of Quebec, the party lost nearly 10 percentage points since the election to just 15.5 percent of the vote. Of course, the decline could be also a result of NDP policy positions which have shifted to the middle and even to the right. The NDP campaigned on a balanced budget, a prominent platform of the Conservatives. The Liberals campaigned for deficit spending to stimulate the economy. When the Liberals won, more than 70 percent of NDP supporters were pleased: Possibly more ominous than the actual vote last October was a survey conducted by Angus Reid a week later that found fully 71 per cent of NDP supporters were "pleased" with the arrival of a Liberal government. At the last leadership review in 2013, Mulcair had 92.3 percent support among delegates. In winning the leadership in 2012 he garnered only 57.2 percent of the vote.
A recent poll by Mainstreet Research showed that Mulcair's approval rating among NDP voters was at 73 percent against just 14 percent disapproval. However, only 32 percent strongly approved of Mulcair's leadership; 48 percent of NDP voters thought that there should be no leadership race; 15 percent thought there should be; 37 percent were not sure.
Important unions support Mulcair's leadership. In a recent statement, five union leaders expressed support for Mulcair's leadership. The labour leaders say Mulcair has proven himself able to provide himself a true progressive alternative to Trudeau's Liberals. It seems that the polls show that many NDP supporters actually are happy about the Liberals. Fewer voters are attracted to the NDP. Perhaps they are not progressive! The unions supporting Mulcair are: Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Food and Commerical Workers, National Union of Public and General Employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the United Steelworkers. The union statement said: "Mulcair is known and respected throughout every part of Canada and has the organic relationship with Quebec to keep and expand our strongest geographic base." The base appears to be shrinking rather than expanding.
The NDP's problems are not just do to leadership but also to changes in policy which reflect a move to the middle or even right on some issues characteristic of the Third Way politics. In Britain the rise of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party appears to be a clear rejection of such politics but there is no sign of this happening in the NDP. Perhaps, we will move towards a two-party system such as in the United States.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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