Sunday, 8 May 2011

Pyrrhic NDP Victory and CONsolidation of the West

2011 Federal Election Results: Notice the large sea
of blue west of Ontario. Very scary when one realizes
that the big orange chunks in the West are single ridings!

Image Source: Wikipedia
 I'm generally a defensive pessimist, but even I didn't expect the result on May 2 to be as bad as it was. While a poor Official Opposition (the Liberals) were replaced by a stronger one (the NDP), at best this means four years to get dirt that sticks on the Harper Government™. Nothing will materialize when it comes to progressive legislation during this period. The Conservatives will likely use their power to end public financing for campaigns and rake in huge corporate donations. Austerity will begin in a couple of years and you can expect pain for students and the young. Social spending will be slashed as giveaways to arms manufacturers explode. Canada will become an Anglo-American Corporate Welfare State in the worst sense of the term.

1919 Winnipeg General Strike: Crucial moment
 in labour organizing in Canada;
 had a formative effect on
a young Tommy Douglas.
Critical moment in the formation
of the Cooperative Commonwealth
Federation (which evolved into the NDP).

Image Source: Wikipedia
The NDP didn't make much of a dent in the Conservatives. Most of their new seats were gained by defeating Liberal or Bloc Quebecois MPs. While some of these new faces are very refreshing (like renown Cree leader Romeo Saganash) and a few Quebec Conservatives were unseated, the fact of the matter is that the NDP didn't hit Harper where it hurts: The West.

This is very strange, as labour populism has a strong history in Western Canada starting with the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The CCF originated in the West, there's vast swaths of Aboriginal Canadians scattered throughout the region, and it's increasingly urban. The NDP forms the Official Opposition in British Columbia and Saskatchewan as well as Government in this Province (for the time being). Since the NDP is unique among parties in that its provincial wings are fully integrated into the Federal Party, there surely should be tried and true campaign tactics the Provincial wings could teach Federal organizers.

Relatively left-leaning Winnipeg* shows just how bad the result was in the West:

Saint Boniface: Conservatives hold this traditionally Liberal riding, expanding lead over the Liberals from previous election.

Kevin Lamoureux: MP for traditionally
NDP Winnipeg North. Sole
Liberal MP in Manitoba.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Winnipeg South Centre: Conservative Candidate (and recent Party turncoat) unseats Liberal Annita Nevile.
Elmwood-Transcona: Seat once held by Bill Blaikie, the longest serving MP in the house, goes Conservative.

Pat Martin: MP for Winnipeg Centre. One of two NDP
 MPs in Manitoba elected on May 2.

Image Source:

Only two seats in the city didn't go Tory: Winnipeg North (Liberal hold) and Winnipeg Centre (NDP hold). So a riding with some of the poorest areas in the country didn't go Tory and a riding whose Heart is the "Granola Belt" stayed NDP - not very impressive.

The result in Saskatchewan was also disastrous. Nettie Wiebe, a small farm activist and Prairie Populist, lost the third time by a very marginal amount to the Conservatives (Why the hell is it always by such small margins in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar?). Had the Federal NDP campaigned more aggressively in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and the West in general, rather than making a destructive lurch** for seats in Southern Ontario, I'm certain Wiebe would have won.

I'm not just upset because I dislike being represented by Tories in Ottawa (though I do). The fact is that with a permanent Rightward shift in Toronto's 905 belt, tearing into the Conservative base in Western Canada is exactly what's needed to prevent Tory majorities.

And, sadly, I fear winning in Quebec will have a hyper-Easternizing effect on the Federal NDP, where they focus on replacing the Liberals in Ontario and Atlantic Canada rather than on their historical Western base.

Elizabeth May: MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
First elected Green MP.

Image Source: The Tyee

Overall, though, winning Quebec is largely positive as winning there generally shifts parties to the left*** and is a welcome antidote to the Rightward shift of the party. Dave Barrett's warning still rings true: the NDP cannot give up on BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Edmonton****, the Party's traditional message resonates with the populist sense of the region and urbanization should ensure even more centre-left voters.

On a final note, a welcome surprise this election was Elizabeth May's unseating of Conservative MP Gary Lunn, who's held the riding for over a decade as a Conservative (and Alliance) MP. While a very small victory, at least it was a gain in the West at Tory expense.

*Well, compared to most Metropolitan Centres West of Ontario and East of BC.
** Yes, the lurch was destructive. It ate away enough Liberal seats in what was never a real NDP hotbed. That, along with some blue Liberals switching to the Tories and Liberal vote splitters in the West, is responsible for the Tory Majority.
*** Well, except on multicultural issues apparently.
**** Yes, everywhere else in Alberta is a lost cause.

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