Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 13, 2014
Either Thomas Mulcair is a soothsayer or he is desperate.
The NDP leader and leader of the official Opposition has drawn a line in the sand, stating he and his party would reveal “concrete” platform proposals more than a year ahead of a proposed election.
As much as the quick-triggered leader dubs these proposals as being in the best interest of Canadians, it is a gambit that shows a party that may, in fact, be on the brink of relinquishing its hold on the Opposition spot.
Furthermore, if the revived Liberals or steadfast Conservatives have their way in the next federal election, it could push the NDP back to fighting for official party status in an ever-changing House of Commons.
Mulcair, who is far from enjoying his predecessor Jack Layton’s iconic status, has taken on the role of the last picked in gym class, with the slippery slope of recognition taking a hit prior to the House taking a recess for the summer.
He and his Quebec-heavy party seem more and more to be afterthoughts in the current scenario in Canada, and with the way politics happens in this country, if they aren’t talking about you, it is tough to be considered relevant — a thought that likely triggered the all-in call from the frustrated former Quebec Liberal.
The move, which in the past has garnered some success, more often than not fails. One only needs to look at the beleaguered Ontario Conservatives from the last provincial election, where the net loss of seats was high, to know the move is dicey.
Early platform planks often fall flat with the voters and allow spinners in the other political camps upwards of a year to see the cards on the table and shape their hand however they see fit.
Mulcair himself is not new to this strategy. In his previous life as a provincial Liberal in Quebec, the plan was used to help garner support months ahead of the 2003 election — a plan that in that instance worked, as the Liberals almost doubled their closest competitors.
Realistically, though, this win came as a result of myriad of other factors beyond early platforms, including a strong Jean Charest as well as underlying separatist currents that always come into play in Quebec.
Mulcair’s plan to revisit this strategy points to an inherent fear the party is disconnected with voters — unravelling what Layton had fostered in earnest during his tenure as leader.
The game in Quebec — where Mulcair’s base currently sits — has changed a bunch since Layton, and the NDP strategy smacks of desperation, especially with the Justin Trudeau Liberals and Stephen Harper Conservatives scrapping in his backyard while he waits in the house.
Mulcair trying to show he is the true progressive leader for Canadians, for all intents and purposes, is a last-ditch effort for a party mired with the first-time duty of being the Opposition in the House.
That tough job has allowed the Liberals to bounce around the country, building a team cut from the cloth of Trudeau’s suit. The Grits’ ease of movement has benefited them, while the NDP has been worn down by the grind of Opposition and the growing number of rejuvenated Liberal supporters.
Any of these on their own would play a significant role in challenging the NDP’s fortunes, but the greatest single hurdle may still be the fact that Thomas Mulcair is not Jack Layton.
“Le bon Jack” swept to Opposition status running a campaign where he was the face in all of the ridings at play — something Mulcair won’t likely be able to repeat while Trudeau takes pages from Jack’s playbook in mimicking the likable, everyman persona.
Early platforms and supporter rallies or not, the NDP members have plenty of work ahead of them if they are to hold on to what they currently have in the House of Commons.
There remains an even steeper climb if they, or the Liberals for that matter, hope to gain enough ground to unseat a Conservative government staring happily down the barrel of another left-of-centre split, should it happen come election day.