Earlier this week it was discovered that the RCMP had foiled a plot in which two individuals had planned to destroy a New York bound VIA train across the border. In light of this revelation, the Harper government moved to introduce a bill in parliament that it was said would assist law enforcement officials unearth and disrupt such plots. WIth nerves still raw following the Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt, it’s no surprise this controversial piece of legislation was....controversial. The Liberals, who had actually passed an earlier incarnation a decade earlier in response to the 9/11 attacks, wholeheartedly supported this Conservative bill. This of course, led to the NDP landing the sole dissenting role. While there are genuine concerns with Bill S-7, and very valid criticisms, there has also been very saddening politicking and partisanship on the NDP’s part, with some MPs making very dubious arguments, namely that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker would have “rolled in his grave” should he have known his own party was proposing such a law.
While many point to the general deterioration in the NDP’s political capital, hastened by an ill-advised move to the centre, defections, and Thomas Mulcair’s generally abrasive attitude as reasons for a decline in its electoral fortunes, I’d say it’s just the petty, dumb, unhelpful and small-minded criticisms and comments that we’ve seen their MPs make in recent months. (Not to mention some pretty dumb policy wonks as well.)
In the last election, they won 103 seats, with 59 of those in Quebec. Many heralded this “Orange Wave” as the beginning of an NDP resurgence that could down the road lead them to the PMO. In reality, this shift to their party by Quebecers was generally fuelled by discontent with the Bloc, who had done a terrible job in Parliament pushing both a rather leftist agenda, and soft sovereignty. First one must realize that what happened in Quebec was very similar to what nearly happened in the last Albertan elections, with the upstart and markedly more likeable Wildrose Party, a carbon copy of the ruling Conservatives minus the social conservatism, nearly capitalized on general discontent with the job the incumbents were doing. The untested Wildrose did not really put anything too radical on the table, such as a comprehensive (and realistic) plan to diversify the economy. Instead what happened was that they won seats and took on opposition status in legislature by doing what the NDP did; making themselves into a conduit by which the people could express dissatisfaction with the status quo. When the people are satisfied, their electoral fortunes will fall. When things aren’t going so great, it will rise. The thing is, people who stumbled into the NDP fold looking for change in 2011 are increasingly shifting their support back to the Liberals, who emerged from a disastrous period in which they contemplated merging with the NDP. With a young, charismatic leader, powerful political organizing machine and polls that say they are making headway across the country, Harper knows his greatest threat lies not with the Official Opposition, but with the party he decimated two year ago.
But Stephen Harper doesn’t have much to worry about. The Liberals’ upswing has generally been fuelled by NDP voters who are returning to the party they fled in droves. The recent BOC economic outlook for the next two years was more optimistic than even Mr. Flaherty’s own prediction, and if they hold true, Canada is in a position to return to be back in the black by 2015, which is the current target, and an election year. Jim Flaherty has said he is contemplating introducing income splitting should he eliminate the deficit on schedule. Although this would cost roughly $1.5 billion, implementing something so politically popular going into an election would make it toxic for any party to try and repeal it.
The NDP rode a wave of discontent to (almost) the top. And now that same wave will bring them back down to earth. In an attempt to keep the voters they wooed in 2011, they dropped the most overtly socialist sections of their party manifesto, moving to the centre left, traditionally Liberal territory. People who vote centre-left would much rather trust the party that’s been doing it for over a century, especially now that it’s found its mojo again. Bloc voters, generally very leftist (explains the absence of a Conservative Party provincially and general scarcity of Conservative MPs from the province) and a significant chunk of the seats they lost in the last election should return. Combined with a lack of anything that would compel the populace to vote NDP, there isn’t really anywhere for them to go except down. FIPA notwithstanding, the Conservatives generally have pulled the right strings with regards to foreign policy, and when there is some unforced error that does come to light, the NDP sound like a bunch of whining teenagers, content to complain and just point blame instead of working towards a genuine solution, something that should be the hallmark of any opposition party.