Did NDP Sectarianism Screw Canada? Part 2

On Saturday, May 7, The Toronto Star, published a front-page “Exclusive” article entitled “What Really Sunk Ignatieff and the Liberals”, written by veteran reporter Linda Diebel. You can read it here:


Among the reasons it cites for the Liberal’s demise was the fact that during the April 12th leaders’ debate, NDP leader Jack Layton drew blood by calling out Michael Ignatieff on his attendance record in Parliament.

“Why do you have the worst attendance record in the House of Commons?” Layton challenged Ignatieff, adding the Liberal leader missed 70 per cent of the votes. 

Diebel writes: “As (NDP) campaign director (Brad) Lavigne recalls: ‘At that moment we knew our guy had just scored a home run.’ The home run was what political junkies call the ‘pivot.'” The story details how the NDP, as early as January, decided to focus on the attendance issue as a way to attack the Liberals. They assembled a focus group in March and put this very issue before it. When it turned out to be popular in that forum, the NDP drew up the ads that highlighted Ignatieff’s attendance record.

What this suggests is that the NDP strategy, long before the election writ was dropped in late March, was to focus on the Liberals and Ignatieff in particular, whose inexperience and arrogance proved to be manna in political heaven. Those NDPers suggesting the party did not deliberately go after Liberal ridings and Ignatieff are clearly out of touch with what really went down.

In the same issue of the Star, columnist Thomas Walkom, in a piece entitled “Harper’s majority and the fitful economy” writes about how the Harper majority government is not going to make matters better for the Canadian economy. He notes that in February the economy shrank, that the manufacturing sector is doing poorly because of the high loonie, inflation is rising and, most ominously, the Tories plan to cut $17-billion out of the budget over the next five years. “That’s not Republican-style restraint,” Walkom writes. “But when so little else is going on, it promises to be extraordinarily counterproductive.” Indeed, in the UK, as the Tory government  slashes its budget, unemployment is on the rise as a direct consequence.

Walkom’s column can be found here:


Meanwhile, earlier this year, TD Canada Trust published a survey that said 30 percent of Canadians do not have enough money to cover living expenses and 38 per cent had no savings at all.

While the NDP are obviously not responsible for the fumblings and missteps of the Liberals during the election campaign, they are responsible for deliberately targeting Liberal ridings as easy pickings, as opposed to fighting the Tories in their strongholds. The Tories have been clever in reaching out to the new immigrant populations and the Jewish community – traditional supporters of the Liberals – and attacking the Liberal’s poor leadership.  The NDP has clearly benefited from the weakness of the Liberals, too. Which split the vote, and allowed the Tories their majority.

The alarming thing about this development is it shows how the NDP is really no different from other mainstream electoral machines. Like the Republicans in the US who obsess about whether Obama is really an American, or whether gay marriages will destroy the country, and ignore the enormous real crises cascading across the US landscape, the NDP risks embracing the trivial in order to score political points. Ignatieff’s record of attendance  means very little in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, the working and middle classes are falling into dire economic straits and desperation, weighted down by debt, with good jobs being increasingly difficult to find, and the cost of living soaring. Let’s hope the NDP doesn’t forget that reality now that they are the official opposition.



  • Andrew Jackson

    And the Liberals have never gone after NDP votes while masquerading as progressives??!!

  • janfromthebruce

    Well you should look to the pundit’s guide for that vote splitting scenerio – let’s see – the “blue liberal vote” bled to the Cons. I guess you forgot about your own voters who the Liberals couldn’t hold and that had nothing to do with the NDP.

    Furthermore, what about looking at it this way & seeing how the Liberals split the progressive vote. You had that Liberal who did not live in the Oshawa riding running a campaign there – splitting the vote. Now what about that – crickets?

    Personally, the reality was that the Liberals ran a crap campaign and if all that brought down the Liberals was that 1 challenge by Layton (with crickets from the Liberal Leader) it says more about the Liberal campaign & party than anything about the NDP.

  • What I got from the Star exclusive was that the Liberals, and specifically Ignatieff, weren’t prepared for the debate and were too arrogant to connect with Canadians.

    And didn’t the Liberals screw Canada in the 90s?

  • As Jan pointed out, a statistical analysis of the splits doesn’t really support the notion that the Conservative majority was about “NDP vote-splitting”. The real splitting is internal, and the fault line goes back at least to Pearson’s time, when the social reform program would have gone down in flames because of opposition within the party, if it weren’t for NDP support on crucial votes.

    That fault line hasn’t gone away, as the flight of blue Liberals to the Conservatives made painfully clear. As for attracting new supporters, the LPC has its work cut out for it. It’s hard to credibly position yourself as a progressive party when you’ve spent the past 25 years undermining everything progressive you did in the previous 20.

    If defeating Harper had been the Liberals’ priority, there was a simple, legitimate way to go about it, and a willing partner. It’s called coalition. Sadly, Ignatieff squelched it on day one of the campaign.

  • Here is the statistical analysis of vote splits to which a couple of commentators have referred.

    Iggy’s parliamentary attendance record was not “trivial.” Questioning it was certainly not analogous to questioning Obama’s birthplace.

    Iggy’s usual absence from confidence votes reflected his party’s acquiescence to Harper’s government. A Conservative majority for four years is bad, but Conservative minorities propped up by Liberals for five years were also pretty bad.

    I have no problem with the NDP using the same electoral tactics as other parties, provided that it advances a significantly more progressive policy agenda than other parties, which the federal NDP has clearly done. Bruce should be saluting the party’s electoral success rather than dumping on it.

    On the alleged targeting of “Liberal” ridings, a nontrivial number of formerly Liberal ridings turned out to be NDP-Conservative races this time. The Liberals were evidently going to lose them anyway. Had the NDP targeted those ridings more aggressively, we might now have fewer Conservatives in Parliament.

  • In part 3 Bruce can tell us about the shameful way BR and UD were treated by the NDP.

  • One must remember that in politics, its every party for itself. While it may be a goal to defeat the governing party in an election, political parties do have the ultimate goat of getting as many of its candidates elected. There are no sympathies to other parties.

    Although I am not an NDP member, I do know people who view both the Liberal and Conservative Party as being similar. Sympathy toward the Liberal Party may be seen as being sympathetic toward the Conservatives.

  • “it shows how the NDP is really no different from other mainstream electoral machines”

    The implication being that the NDP is supposed to be different. Old rhetorical trick. If you can hold your opponent to a different standard than yourself, you can claim to be somehow betrayed by his failure to rise to that standard. By continuing to raise the bar, you can ensure that your opponent always falls short. It’s sophistry.

  • This ele tion for me was about two things in terms of causality.

    Quebecers, somehow turning orange (a truly amazing feat that no advertising or campaign could have pulled off, where do quebecers get that uncanny Collective action? Impressive!)

    Harper and the corporate media trumpeting the evil rise of the orange in the east, quacking causing the blue liberals to destroy their own failing party. Strategic voting of a different sort.

    That’s it.

    Hash tag fail on Bruce.

  • Bruce Livesey’s sniveling over Liberal fortunes lost is pathetic. “The alarming thing about this development is it shows how the NDP is really no different from other mainstream electoral machines.” Only a Liberal in defeat could make such a ridiculous statement.

  • Yes, yes. Unique among the parties, the NDP are supposed to fight to lose.

  • They may have known the attack on Ignatieff’s attendance was effective, but I’m sure they where as surprised as anyone how effective it was.

    Besides, I think it was a relatively minor factor in the campaign. The biggest factor was the dramatic move of Bloc voters to the NDP. That cause the NDP to rise in the national polls and get the media talking about them. That unleashed the torrent of people who believe in the NDP, but vote Liberal because they assume that the NDP don’t have a chance to win.

    The torrent may have only begun. Now many progressive groups that would fit best with the NDP but have long worked with the Liberals (and where frequently betrayed by them) will abandon them for the NDP now that they have a chance to win.

  • Elliott Anderson

    Bruce hasn’t built on any of his earlier points so I’ll try and summarize his thinking.

    In 2009, in his first act as Liberal Leader, Ignatieff walked away from an agreement to form a coalition government with the NDP. He proceeded to spend the next two years voting for Prime Minister Harper’s legislation and initiatives – including extending the mission in Afghanistan and slashing corporate tax rates. In early 2011, he made it clear he intended to defeat the government and clearly stated his strategy was to marginalize the NDP and get everyone “into the big red tent”. He launched his campaign in the NDP-held riding of Outrement and then moved along to teh NDP-held riding of Trinity Spadina.

    In Mr. Livesay’s world the NDP should have responded to this challenge by ignoring it. In Mr. Livesay’s world, the fact that the Liberals rejected offers of coalition is inconsequential. New Democrats should have let the Liberals depose NDP incumbents and then hoped (against all evidence) that Liberals would have used those seats to forward the fight against Harper.

    We also have to ignore the fact that the only party that was defeating Conservatives last Monday was the NDP. That’s not the point. The NDP, presumably, should have urged people to vote for the party that walked away from an attempt to do government differently two years ago. The NDP, presumably, should have urged Canadians to vote for the candidates that voted for corporate tax cuts and more war in Afghanistan.

    I’d love to be corrected because it sounds utterly crazy to me.

  • You all need to get a clue, PEOPLE DO NOT WORK ON RATIONALITY see what the science has found.

    Education can’t solve this problem because science shows we don’t reason “rationally” you guys are under a false view of reason, see what has been discovered by science about human reasoning:


  • Hey BB don’t you think it is kinda weird to scream “PEOPLE DO NOT WORK ON RATIONALITY” and then attempt to sway your audience by pointing to a rational analysis?

  • One of the ironies about the responses my posts have generated is that many, if not most of them, reflect the very sectarianism I am talking about.

    The responses generally fall into two categories: denial there was a split of the vote (an absurdity given that 60% of the electorate voted against the Tories and we now have a Tory majority government); or to blame the Liberals.

    In regards to this latter response, it’s akin to accusing someone of being a bigot and their response is: “I am not a bigot, I just hate Jews and black people.”

    The issue of sectarianism is no minor matter. It can be the difference between having a good government in power and a lousy one. The reason Harper is in power is because he managed to unite the right, bringing the Reform and old PC parties together. That previously divided right is what allowed the Liberals under Chretien three straight majority governments.

    In the US, Clinton won against Bush in 1992 because Ross Perot split the Republican vote.

    On the flip side, during the mid-1980s, the NDP and Liberals briefly formed a coalition government in Ontario, bringing the long Tory monopoly on power to an end, and creating what most view as the best government the province ever had.

    So, unless the NDP boosters want four, eight or 12 more years of Tory majorities, they had better learn to build their support with the mushy centre voters who have traditionally supported the Liberals. Or work with the Liberal party. Or both.

    While various definitions of sectarianism exist, the one I found on-line which is closest to my view is “bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion or the factions of a political movement.”

    Which means you don’t attack someone who is your potential ally.

    Going into this election, the NDP was polling at 19% support. So their chance of winning a majority government was pretty much zilch. Their only hope of preventing the Tories from holding power was that, combined, the NDP and Liberals win enough seats to form a coalition government. To do so, they would have to eat into the Tories’ support and base.

    It doesn’t matter whether the Liberals were hostile to the idea of a coalition, whether they are a neoliberal pro-corporate party, or whether Ignatieff eats babies for breakfast. Just because the Liberals are poor sports does not justify the NDP becoming sectarian and attacking them. The fact is the NDP and Liberals had to build on their bases at the expense of the Tories in order to win a chance at creating a coalition government. Blaming the Liberals for being pig-headed is, in fact, being sectarian. The supporters of the Liberals are more of a natural ally to the NDP than not.

    The NDP has a long history of being sectarian. During the post-war Cold War years, they were often viciously anti-communist and red-baiting. The Lewis family were notorious in this respect, driving the Waffle out of both the federal and Ontario NDPs. And the United Steelworkers union, probably the most stalwart of the NDP’s labour supporters, was a classic Cold War union. Which was best demonstrated over their nasty raid of Mine Mill in the early ’60s. In more recent times the NDP and Steelworkers were vehemently opposed to Buzz Hargrove’s calls for strategic voting in order to prevent the Tories from getting a majority.

    Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran a story saying that the NDP is ignoring any talks of merging with the Liberals. Unfuckingbelievable!. If that is not sectarian, I don’t know what is.

  • You seem to have trouble distinguishing between different scales of cooperation.

    Cooperation can extend from working together to a bill passed, a supporting another party in forming the government, a coalition, an electoral non-compete deal in selected ridings or merger.

    The NDP expressed support for going as far as a coalition, and they might consider a deal for cooperation in selected riding.

    During this election Liberal leader rejected a coalition, they are the ones who took greater cooperation off the table. Besides, they had just spend five years cooperating with the Conservatives.

    A merger doesn’t make sense when proportional representation is a much better option for everyone.

  • The only sectarianism I see here is Bruce Livesay’s sectarian backing of one right wing party over another, and his bizarre demand that the only progressive party fold up its tent.

    I thought this was supposed to be the “Progressive” Economics Forum. Why is is highlighting an article from a right wing apologist?

  • Bruce you should be advocating that the libs target the cons on right and deliver the NDP a majority in the next election. Good luck floating that idea with your non-sectarian Liberal comrades.

    Your failure to at least acknowledge that in this election, in hindsight, it is the liberals who should have voted strategically for the NDP once the wave in Quebec was confirmed in poll after poll just means that you cannot be taken seriously.

  • I think we are be a bit hard on Bruce here, he does have a point that 60% did not vote harper. It is a very tricky space over the next few months. We have just torn up years and years of federal concrete and poured a new foundation. Before it sets and dries, it would be much easier to make changes to build something bigger.

    However, I am very much against diluting and going 3rd Wayism and merging with libs. If anything, given most of the blue libs have destroyed the party and went Tory, one would think the remaining libs could be brought into the NDP.

    The other huge issue is keeping the quebec vote firmly within the NDP, without being perceived by the Tories or voters as a mini bloc, or going too tariff the social that might alienate the Quebec vote.

    I do think all can be accomplished, but the corporate media will be ruthless.

    I believe there is a fourth way and it is not steering for center of the road.

    How many libs will come over to this side, I guess is the difficult question that Bruce is asking, and it must be given some attention right now before they resurrect the party.

    33 more seats would be nice and no more split vote, or fear of a center arising.

  • Let me get this straight: Bruce Livesey is (1) upset with the NDP’s success because it came at the expense of a party he clearly likes–namely, the Liberals; (2) even more upset that they appear to like being NDPers, and won’t consider dissolving their own party and merging with Livesey’s favoured alternative; (3) pretty sure the NDP is actually a violent, McCarthyite party–which he nonetheless wants to merge with the Liberals.

    Please tell me why he’s still writing for a website whose stated mission seems to be entirely at odds with his political worldview.

  • Let me get this straight…a party whose popular vote was about 50% higher than that of the Liberals are the “spoilers” and “sectarians.”

  • Kelsey Kirkland

    There’s no mystery to Jack Layton’s success really. If there was any contest, why was Jack in the last day or so of May 2nd elections campaigning in Ontario ridings where NDP candidates were distant third and Liberal candidates were leading over Conservatives.

    If Layton refers to his wife and mother-in-law’s land of birth (used to be colonial Hong Kong) as China, why would Bloc vote en mass shift to NDP then. I mean he is still into Canada, right. Right?

    For some obscure reason Conservative’s belly aching went on for too long over Adscam. If you suffer more obviously you care more.

    In this business you cannot tell who is left, who is right.

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