Until 2011, the NDP was scarcely a factor in Quebec. Jack Layton redrew the federal political map in that election.
The NDP had been on a slow but steady climb in Quebec under Layton, starting with barely 1% of the popular vote and reaching double digits (barely) in the 2008 election. The meteoric rise in 2011 masked the fact that NDP gains in the Rest of Canada (ROC) were not as spectacular. The NDP had nested in the 15% to 20% range from 1965 to 1988 before crashing in the 1990s. Their historic vote was almost entirely in ROC.
The general elections of 2011 and 2015 are the only two in the NDP’s history where the popular vote was higher in Quebec than ROC. In 2015, ROC fell back to 18% – in its traditional zone as third party.
Chart 1: NDP popular vote (%) in Quebec and Rest of Canada (ROC)
Now, with Thomas Mulcair on his way out, does the NDP have a future in Quebec? It was Mulcair’s by-election victory during the Layton era that helped spark NDP growth. What will be left of the NDP post-Mulcair? It risks turning its back on what has become, in the past two elections, a key base of support.
Layton’s high water mark in ROC was 26% (2011). In order to govern, a new leader will need to eclipse Layton in ROC while renewing support in Quebec post-Mulcair.
A tall order indeed. Though governing does not appear to be on the NDP’s mind.