Mark Oct. 21, 2020 on your calendars. It is the day when the federal NDP ceased to be an independent political force of any consequence in Canada. The party might hold 24 seats in the House of Commons, but it has become little more than branch plant of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals after propping his government up over an anti-corruption vote.
The NDP have long been described as Canada’s “Liberals in a hurry”. That is, that they share the Liberal Party’s fundamental convictions, but that they are more aggressive and less politically cautious in getting there. This has been true at times, as Jack Layton would use his party’s balance of power between 2004 and 2006 to exact concessions out of Paul Martin’s Liberals for more generous spending programs. It was true in much of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when the threat of the NDP would force the Liberals to take more ardently leftist policy positions, thereby shifting the centre of political gravity.
Thomas Mulcair tried to usurp the Liberals as the dominant force on the centre-left of Canadian politics, leading to his disastrous outflanking by Justin Trudeau in 2015. Since then, the NDP has retreated to an ever more narrow brand of green-socialist purity in hopes of staying relevant in the face of a Trudeau-led Liberal party occupying most of the political space that they have traditionally settled.
What differences that now exist between the Liberals and NDP are mostly rhetorical; that the NDP sounds slightly more strident than the Liberals because it is in opposition, and does not need to govern.
Because the NDP have never formed government federally, they have never been tarred by the brush of corruption or major scandal. This has allowed them to present themselves as the “left without corruption.” Even when Paul Martin tacked left, Layton was successfully able to make this case as the Liberals melted down over the Sponsorship Scandal. Voters on the left could still vote for a party that shared their values, without being complicit in the graft of the Liberal establishment.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh put an end to that for his party on Oct. 22, 2020. A Conservative motion to create an all-party “Anti-Corruption Committee” to dive into the WE corruption scandal had the support of all opposition parties until the Liberals made the unprecedented move of declaring that if the House of Commons voted to create it, that they would consider the matter a vote of non-confidence in their government, and therefore trigger an election.
Normally, only financial matters (like the budget) and explicit motions of non-confidence, are considered confidence votes. This re-writing of constitutional convention by Trudeau now means that the Liberals can demand that Parliament – despite its minority status – pass all of their bills or else face an election.
The Conservatives as official opposition are naturally expected to oppose the government. They also have money in the bank, have completed their leadership election, and actually have at least some ideological distinctiveness from the Liberal government. They aren’t confident of winning the next election, but they can fight one in reasonable shape.
The Bloc Québécois play a different role in Parliament. They present themselves as Quebec’s home team, and have more freedom of maneuver to protect their constituent’s interests. While they (obviously) have never formed the federal government, they have consistently opposed corruption at the federal level, except in cases where it presents Quebec in a negative light (see SNC-Lavalin scandal). They don’t want a federal election, but they can likely come through one intact.
The NDP however are not election-ready. They have little money in their war-chest, and they know well that voters might not see much point in “splitting the vote” for a party with little ideological difference from the Liberals at this point. If serial “black face” photos and videos of Trudeau wasn’t enough to move woke progressives in their direction, then little will.
But by backing the Liberals in voting against the creation of an Anti-Corruption Committee, they have surrendered the last major point of distinction between themselves and the Liberals: ethics.
At least the Liberals got something out of it; covering up their own misdeeds. The NDP are just helping to burry the body in the woods.
Going back to the NDP’s roots in the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the party has had a real cultural difference from the Liberals, apart from matters of ideology. While the Liberals were the party of Laurentien bourgeois interests, the NDP/CCF began as a genuinely (if misguided) working-class party, with its base on the Prairies.
As the left became more urbane and “green”, and rural voters identifying more with the right, the party’s base shifted from a party of class warfare, to a party of urban social progress. The typical NDP voter in 1970 may have been a Saskatchewan farmer named Hank, but the typical NDP voter in 2020 is a Vancouver anti-oilsands activist named Zoe.
The NDP may still have close ties to established labour-unions, but most working-class people no longer belong to these unions, and are mostly uninterested in class warfare.
Much of this is also less to do with ideology, than to do with populist and regional politics. Until 1993, the NDP was a major player in Western Canada, and often dominant in BC, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. It’s often forgotten that the the Reform Party didn’t just destroy the PC Party in the West, but also the NDP. In the West at least, the NDP held the banner of anti-establishment populism, but was usurped by the Reform Party. And while the Conservative Party is a long ways away from the anti-establishment chip on the Reform Party’s shoulder, it has effectively established itself as the party of the West.
After the 2011 election, the NDP looked poised to become the party of Quebec nationalists, but found that Quebec’s ethnic politics were incompatible with its secular-egalitarian politics in Anglo-Canada. Their Quebec gains quickly melted down to the advantage of the Liberals and Bloc.
In 2020, the NDP is no longer the party of the populist anti-establishment. It is no longer the party of the West. It blew its chances at becoming the party of Quebec. It is no longer the party of the working class. It shares most of its ideological space with the Liberals and Greens. And critically, it no longer has a claim on being untrained by corruption.
In short, there is no longer a compelling reason for the NDP to continue as an independent political entity, separate and “splitting the vote” from the Liberals. The NDP would best be served at this point in making their absorption with the Liberals official.
Derek Fildebrandt is Publisher of the Western Standard and President of Wildrose Media Corp. email@example.com