Thursday, 21 April 2011

Progessive Voters Turn to NDP: Is This a Sea Change in Voting Patterns?

The Quebec polls and the media this morning are full of "astounding" news: the New Democrat Party under Jack Layton has surpassed the Bloc Québécois in voter intentions in Quebec. It is running well ahead of the Liberals and leaving the Conservatives in the dust.

But is that really all that surprising? Anybody who has followed the Bloc Québécois over the years knows that BQ positions on many things have been steadily leftish. The Bloquists, in the main, believe that government has an important role to play in society, which is something that a large majority of Quebeckers believe also. It would seem that many voters here are seriously considering opting for the other party whose ideas correspond to theirs on most issues.

The problem, of course, is whether that rising NDP support will translate into more NDP seats or whether it will only split the vote so that in a few ridings where BQ and Conservative candidates are close, the Cons will sneak through

More than 20 years ago, as an organizer of an NDP campaign I had the unhappy experience of contributing to the election of a Conservative, Jean-Pierre Hogue, in the federal riding of Outremont. Lucie Pépin was running for re-election as a Liberal and the NDP candidate was Louise O'Neill, a charming, intelligent, legally-trained translator. Pépin got 34.7 per cent of the vote, O'Neill, 20.5 per cent, and the Conservative, 38.4 per cent: in other words the women candidates--whose positions on pro-choice were similar--split the progressive vote.

But a lot of time has past. The election of Thomas Mulcair, as a New Democrat in a by election in 2007 and again in the 2008 general election, shows the depth of the progressive tendency in the riding. This time he is running well ahead of Martin Cauchon, the Liberal candidate this time around and the man who easily defeated Hogue in 1993. Elsewhere in the province, Jack Layton is extremely popular, too.

Rather than splitting the vote to the benefit of the Conservatives, a more interesting scenario would be the sort of massive shift in votes which occured in 1984 when Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives (mostly Red Tories and quite different from the sort of folk running with Stephen Harper) swept the province.

Wouldn't it be amazing is something similar happened this time with the NDP!

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