Election 2015: An Escape Hatch for the NDP?

In an earlier post, I sought to explain (not necessarily defend) the Mulcair team’s decision to run balanced budgets as an election campaign tactic to counter being branded by the Conservatives (and potentially the Liberals)as a profligate manager of the public purse.  Whether or not this tactic is successful will ultimately reflect in the October 19th electoral results.

Since this announcement in late August, polls have suggested the tactic may not have worked, with the NDP having being overtaken by the Conservatives and Liberals in terms of share of the popular vote.  It does not strictly follow that these polling trends will translate into the seats necessary to form a majority for any party, especially for the Liberals, who will have to gain an additional 134 sears to form the government, from the 36  seats they held at dissolution.  Another consideration is the extent we can have confidence in any  polling results given the deterioration of a reliable sampling frame with the rise of cell phone use over land lines.

However, let’s consider three possible electoral outcomes for the NDP: an NDP minority government supported by the Liberals, a Liberal minority government supported by the NDP  (minority governments being not uncommon in Canadian politics) and a coalition government between the NDP and Liberals (rare in Canadian history but can’t be ruled out).  In all three scenarios, it is plausible to imagine the NDP relinquishing their campaign promise of balanced budgets in order to cooperate with the Trudeau team.  This would provide an escape hatch from the corner the Mulcair team has seemed to paint itself into with this campaign commitment of not one, but four consecutive balanced budgets.  While a shrewd campaign tactic, the commitment makes the NDP vulnerable to three political risks: 1) the risk of alienating part of its support base, and having this contribute to its defeat on Oct 19; 2) assuming the NDP forms the government, the risk of making an economic policy error by sticking to balanced budgets, when in fact the government should have run deficits to achieve its policy goals;  3) the risk being punished in 2019 for breaking an election promise when an NDP government changes its position and runs deficits (recall George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” in 1992).   The possibility of a minority or a coalition between the NDP and the Liberals  (and this is a real possibility, according to Nanos Research) would help the NDP avoid these three risks.

Beyond this issue, a larger question that has emerged (for me at least) is: what is this election about for Canadian voters?  Unlike the 1988 election campaign, where free trade became the defining issue, this election is a rapidly  moving discussion in the 24/7 news cycle, with few apparent anchors.  What about the economic policy debate beyond the “ balanced budgets vs budget deficit” issue?  Wasn’t it about how we treat refugees in this country?  What about corruption and Senate?  Climate change, anyone?  Does Canada’s reputation abroad matter?  How has citizenship and values moved up the middle?  Is the niqab the defining issue of this moment for Canadians?


  • Major strategic blunder by the NDP to move to the middle and give up the progressive banner to the untrustworthy Liberals. Mulcair should have focussed on consolidating his position as the voice for progressive change even if it meant giving Harper another four years.

    The imperative for this election was to consolidate their position as Official Opposition. Given the likelihood of a hung parliament, remaining in second place would have accomplished two purposes: 1) further undermine and potentially eliminate the desperate Liberals as a credible political alternative; and 2) give the NDP a chance to govern in coalition. Both look increasingly unlikely with two weeks to go.

    Falling to third place will be a disaster that will take years to recover from. The NDP foolishly flew too close to the sun.

  • Reframing the Debate: Economics for a Progressive Politics

    This presentation – Reframing the Debate: Economics for a Progressive Politics – was presented in London on August 27, 2015….

    The talk considers questions such as:

    How can the debate on the economy be reframed around the things that really matter – people and the environment?

  • Possible, Bob, but the truth is that the Liberals will need NDP support.

    I think this is golden moment, in which the NDP can play the same role it did in the 1960s, in driving the Liberals (giving support to a progressive Liberal leader against the right wing of his party) to adopt crucial social policies, the most important being:
    1) Electoral reform;
    2) National childcare programming (this can be done province by province, but might better be done by staying within federal jurisdiction. Qc’s model is a very good one, but one option might be, as John Restakis has proposed, adoption of a model similar to the Emilia Romagna model, in which the government provides tax credits to parents who set up parent pre-school co-operatives, hiring early childhood educators to help oversee the co-op’s operations. This has the model of fitting entirely inside of federal tax jurisdiction, and being adaptable to the specifics of each province, such as Ontario, with its extended 4-year kindergarten, or even QC, enabling the province to fill the last gaps in the system to make it truly universal.
    3) Spending on social and affordable housing through the CMHC (following the arrangements with not-for-profits across the country to build and allocate this housing, as was done already up until the early 1990s).
    4) Voting down the TPP, sadly, may not be possible, as that is something the Conservatives would obviously support. One can hope.

  • Apathy and disengagement have got to be one of the big unspoken issues of this as in many previous elections. I suspect the turn out will be low if my 19 year old and her friends are anything to go by. They have paid almost no attention to this election. One recently remarked, “I can’t wait for this stupid thing to be over.”
    Which leads to the issue of NDP positioning. DO any social democratic parties really believe in social democracy any more? Some have been honest that they do not, such as New Labour under Blair, while perhaps others choose to leave people guessing. Even Syriza in Greece – which did so much to mobilize citizens behind a mild alternative to neo-liberalism – let their own supporters down because. as Varoufakis recently observed, “they lack faith in themselves”.

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