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.
Time to face reality, NDP. The high water mark under Layton in 2011 will never be matched. NDP will always only be the party of urban elites, union members and public sector workers. The general public will never buy into their twisted ideology.
First of all, one should never say never in politics. Few ever thought in 1976 that Robert Bourassa would ever be the Premier of Quebec ever again. How many said the NDP would ever run Alberta?
With that out of the way, there were many stars that were aligned in Quebec for the NDP to get those numbers. Remember, there’s no provincial NDP in Quebec. Much of that space has been taken by sovereignist parties such as the PQ, Quebec Solitaire and others that have gone by the wayside.
On the flip side, Quebecers have clearly opined by way of their vote that they see no benefit in a federal sovereignist party for a few elections now. So they needed to put their x somewhere else.
Now, between a party that espouses social-democratic values, a guy you trust and want to have a beer with and then a leader from Quebec, who resigned from the Charest government over “environmental” matters (but that’s a story for another day) and the grits still in purgatory during the previous election and you have the stars aligning.
Unfortunately for Mulcair, he made some strategic errors and Quebecers thought the grits had been in the doghouse long enough and of course there’s the Justin factor. Quebecers, of which I am one, we like our stars.
Can it ever happen again, I can’t say it will. How will the Trudeau government do? Who will be e next NDP leader? What effect will PKP have on sovereignist fervour? But my years in politics, as a pollster, as a strategist, have taught me to never ever say never, ever!