Liberal vote collapses - social democratic NDP jumps to become official opposition

At the start Canada’s federal election, one month ago, everyone was predicting a dull campaign and little change at the end of it. How wrong! The 2 May election dramatically changed the membership of the House of Commons and the landscape of Canadian politics. Clearly there was an underground mood for change.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives finally won a majority after 5 years of minority government, with 39.6% of the votes, up 2% from the 2008 election. The oldest party in parliament, the Liberals, suffered their worst ever result. The party that had most of Quebec’s seats, the Bloc Quebecois, was reduced to just 4 MPs.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) jumped from the 4th party to the official opposition, winning 102 seats and seeing its vote nearly double from 2.5 million in 2008 to 4.5 million now, 30.6% of the vote. While the NDP, and before that the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation), has been active since 1933 and formed the government in 5 provinces, it has never before been the second largest party in the Canadian parliament. The NDP is regarded as Canada’s social democratic party, and while it is much more ‘moderate’ than in the past (i.e. the leadership moved to more openly embrace the market economy and all the anti-working class policies that flow from this), it is still seen as social democratic by many workers and youth – it has not gone the whole way of becoming an openly pro-capitalist party, like New Labour in Britain and the other European social democratic parties. Canadians who voted for the NDP, especially in Quebec, were voting for change; while the NDP’s election platform was fairly moderate, millions perceived it as the party best able to defeat the Tories and most likely to bring progressive change.


2008

2011


% of Vote

MPs

% of Vote

MPs

Conservative

37.7

143

39.6

167

NDP

18.2

37

30.6

102

Liberal

26.3

77

18.9

34

Bloc Quebecois

10.0

49

6.1

4

Green

6.8

0

3.9

1

Independents

0.7

2

0.6

0

Total


308


308

The NDP’s biggest gains were in Quebec, where it went from 1 seat to 58. Until this election, the NDP has had very little support in Quebec, but now a majority of the NDP parliamentary group is newly elected MPs from Quebec. This change is a political earthquake, with the 3 other parties with representatives in Quebec parties all loosing seats. The NDP’s vote was up in every region of Canada and it made modest gains in MPs in Ontario, British Colombia (BC) and the Atlantic provinces.

The Green Party won its first ever seat in Canada, defeating a Conservative cabinet member in BC.

The rise of the NDP was at the expense of the Liberals and the Bloc. The Liberals are Canada’s oldest party having been either the government or opposition since Canada became an independent country. But now they are the 3rd party, with only 18.9% of the vote, loosing 43 seats, including their leader’s seat.

The Bloc Quebecois is only active in Quebec and supports the sovereignty of Quebec. It had dominated Quebec’s representation at the Federal level for 20 years. The Bloc went from 49 seats to 4 and their leader was defeated.

The Conservatives big gains were in Ontario while in the rest of Canada they had little change, with modest gains in the Prairies and Atlantic provinces and lost seats in Quebec and BC.

While 60% of Canadians opposed the Conservatives, Harper, as Prime Minister, no doubt plans to introduce a right wing agenda. Many Canadians fear about what is to come, with attacks on workers’ rights and conditions, cuts to social programmes, and the undermining of environmental protection.

On the other hand, the big jump in support for the NDP will increase workers’ confidence to resist the Tory attacks. This resistance to the Tories will have to come outside of parliament, as the Tories have the majority of votes in the House of Commons. It is not clear if the NDP are willing to lead mass opposition to the Tories.

But mass opposition is needed to Tory policies, on the streets, in workplaces, communities and campuses. During the ‘Ontario Days of Action’ against the right wing Harris government, in the 1990s, the NDP leadership and its allies in the union leadership did everything to curtail mass movements. The NDP and union leaders may try to divert or demobilise mass movements again, by arguing that the only thing people can do is wait and vote NDP in the next election and argue that any militancy threatens the ability of the NDP to win the next election etc.

Tory agenda

But this would be a policy of inaction and passivity in the face of a Tory onslaught. If the NDP genuinely wants to defeat Tory attacks and build support, it has to support the struggles outside of parliament, rather than waiting for the next election. Workers and activists need to prepare to resist the Tory agenda. Millions of NDP voters and supporters will have no choice but to engage in militant struggle against right wing Tory polices that are a direct attack on their living conditions and environment, no matter the restraining policy of the NDP leaders and union bureaucracy. This can led to big debate within the NDP rank and file and opposition to the right wing path of the leadership.

Canada is set to become a much more politically polarized society. In this process, there are real opportunities to build support for the ideas of socialism and for a mass party of working people that actively campaigns against Tory attacks and for jobs, a living wage, affordable homes, a fully funded welfare system, for environmental protection and for taking the major utilities and big business into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control and management, and for a socialist Canada.

Committee for a workers' International publications

p128

p248 01

p304 02

imgFooter1