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The orange wave swells again

in Politically Speaking by

Now in summer barbeque mode and unofficially campaigning for the coming fall elections, both federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and provincial NDP Leader Earle McCurdy should feel nicely buoyed by recent polls showing their respective parties gaining ground, with the federal party topping some.

Mulcair has a real shot at becoming the country’s next prime minister, no doubt due in large part to Justin Trudeau and his Liberals’ support of the Conservatives’ Bill C-51, the hotly contested anti-terrorism legislation which came into law on June 18.

As Global News reported the following week, “the latest seat projections taken from an aggregate of opinion polls suggest Mulcair’s New Democratic Party could win 130 seats in the House of Commons — 11 more than Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and 44 more than Justin Trudeau and the once-powerful Liberal party.”

Meanwhile, provincially, McCurdy doesn’t quite have the same shot at becoming Newfoundland and Labrador’s next premier, but his chances of taking over the Official Opposition are improving dramatically.

An Abacus Data poll released on June 26 saw the New Democrats jump ahead of the flailing PCs to land in second place, the first time they have moved from third place in the polls since the dramatic caucus implosion of October 2013. 

Departures will hurt

Returning to the federal scene, it is certainly too early to count Trudeau out, or Prime Minister Stephen Harper for that matter, as the Oct. 19 election has been considered a three-horse race for some time now.

The Conservative Party of Canada, like their Progressive Conservative cousins in this province, have been seeing—and will likely continue to see—cabinet ministers and other caucus members retire from politics.

Harper has seen high profile cabinet colleagues like John Baird, Peter MacKay and James Moore either leave, or announce their impending departure.

And Premier Paul Davis has signalled that departures from his cabinet and caucus are imminent. Speaker Wade Verge, a Tory, is not running again, and other longtime PCs are likely to throw in the towel in coming weeks.

While the latest Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll released on June 8 places the provincial NDP in third place, the party has jumped double-digits since the previous poll. This is a significant change in not only the party’s fortunes, but in what it means for the provincial political dynamic.

They are the party with the poll momentum now, despite the provincial Liberals continuing to hold a commanding lead. Both the Davis Tories and Dwight Ball’s Liberals fell slightly in this last CRA poll, while the NDP surged to land just 5 per cent behind the incumbent government.

And in the late June Abacus poll, the NDP finally jumped ahead of the PCs, coming in 4 per cent ahead of them as the incumbents continue to skid.

Despite this surge, the NDP were dealt a blow on June 22 when St. John’s East MHA George Murphy announced he would not be seeking re-election in November. The loss of a respected incumbent is no doubt a negative for the party as they presently work to fill their slate of candidates. How much of an impact Murphy’s departure will have remains to be seen.

Attacks and the need to be prepared

One sure sign the NDP is becoming a force to be reckoned with again—particularly federally as Mulcair’s team leads recent polls—is that partisans are ramping up their attacks on them. And it isn’t only party operatives launching salvos and potshots, but pundits as well.

While the federal party might not have such a difficult time filling their slate of candidates for October’s election, it will be interesting to see if the N.L. NDP can fill theirs with quality candidates given the party is currently enjoying this invigoration.

For them to be competitive, they will need to have onboard a least a few high profile, accomplished and experienced candidates who will give the candidates for the other parties a run for their money, both inside and outside the overpass. And like the other two parties, having functioning—and ideally, strong—district associations and volunteers is imperative to electoral success.

How ready are they in that regard?

While the NDP has experienced solid support and success in the capital city since the party’s breakthrough in 2011, what kind of appeal do they have beyond St. John’s at this stage?

And what kind of war chest do they have compared to the other two parties who traditionally enjoy the financial contributions of (big) business and elites?

These will be utmost considerations for the party in the just under four months to go until the writ finally drops.  

Can they ride the wave?

The big test for both the federal and provincial New Democratic Parties will be to keep this momentum in the lead-up to the October federal election and the November provincial election.

The old adage says that a week is an eternity in politics. Another such observation is that polls are a “snapshot in time”. Both of these are truisms. We have months to go until both elections, so the possibility is real that the NDP will lose steam. On the other hand, both the federal and provincial parties could very well maintain where they are now, or, better yet, continue their steady rising in the polls, at the expense of the other parties.

It is clear that at both levels of government, voters are getting tired of the incumbent Conservatives. Voters are eager for change. And on both the federal and provinicial scenes, they are giving the NDP another look. Federally, they appear to be sizing up Thomas Mulcair as Prime Minister material.

And while the Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador enjoy a comfortable lead in recent polls, continuing to say little and to provide next to nothing in the way of policy may well result in the New Democrats picking up more support as voters could grow disillusioned with a party that has yet to distinguish itself from the Tories.

It is clear that they are tired of latter, and the NDP are gaining ground at the Conservatives’ expense. Whether this upswing can be sustained, or in fact grow, with months until both elections will show us just how much strength this “orange wave” has.

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