15 Sept 2015

Can Mulcair work a miracle
and gain unlikely victory?

From the very start, the main issue in the federal election race has been as obvious as the beard on Tom Mulcair’s face, but it’s been largely ignored by mainstream media.

The big time journalists are rushing from the leaders’ pre-planned news conferences day after day, but the majority of voters have said in opinion polls that by far the biggest issue for them is to have either the NDP or Liberals emerge as the party that can soundly defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

During the fourth week of the campaign, it looked like the NDP might be the chosen party. They were at 33.9 per cent in the polls. The Conservatives were at 28.4 per cent, and the Liberals 27.9.

It looked like the NDP might jump to, say, 36 or 38 per cent in the polls and become the party to stop Harper. But it didn’t happen. Instead, the NDP fell back a little.

The NDP might be suffering because of Mulcair’s misguided promise to balance the budget. This is not playing well with Canadians who question how the NDP is going to both balance the budget and pay for all the promises they’ve made. Meanwhile, many progressives who believe the government should borrow to stimulate the economy – as Trudeau promised to do – are upset with the NDP for adopting an overly-cautious position.

If you believe Monday’s opinion polls, the NDP was at 31 per cent, and the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 30 per cent.

This week the NDP faces two big hurdles. On Wednesday, Mulcair will release figures showing how the party would pay for its election promises. And on Thursday he will join the other two leaders in a televised debate on the economy. If Mulcair survives the attacks he will face during Thursday’s debate, the NDP should still be in the race.

Harper hopes ‘dirty tricks’ let him win

Some analysts have written off Harper – largely because they thought the Conservatives took a big hit during the frantic Syrian refugee acrimony. But in Monday’s Nanos Research poll, the Conservatives were back to 30 per cent.

As in past elections, Harper hopes to benefit from a couple of new “dirty tricks”:

  • When the Conservatives oversaw the rejigging of ridings and the addition of new seats for Parliament, they rigged the system in their favour. The Globe and Mail analysis of Elections Canada data shows that if everyone who voted in the 2011 election cast their ballots for the same political parties in 2015, the Conservatives would pick up 22 of the 30 seats that are being added in a riding redistribution. NDP would pick up six ridings and the Liberals two.
  • The big sleeper in the campaign that could mean victory for the Conservatives depends on whether hundreds-of-thousands of people who favour the NDP or the Liberals can manage to vote. According to the Council of Canadians, the so-called Fair Elections Act makes it more difficult for at least 770,000 people to vote. 

There are other factors favouring the Conservatives. A huge percentage of people who say they will vote Conservative do so. But a lot of people recorded in the polls as favouring the other parties end up not voting.

Secondly, the right wing reacted gleefully when the government announced a phoney surplus for last year of about $1-billion. That's a surplus of $1-billion on a budget of $290-billion.They created the surplus out of thin air by grabbing funds from the unemployment insurance fund and other financial tricks.

Harper’s prayer is for the NDP and Liberals to stay tied in the polls so he can sneak back into power with just a few more seats than either of the two.

Will strategic voting work this time?

Conservative opponents believe they have a powerful weapon in their back pocket: strategic voting. Unions and public interest groups used strategic voting to help defeat Tim Hudac’s Progressive Conservatives in last year’s Ontario election and, including the work of small groups, there will be a much larger effort to unseat Harper.

But can the anti-Harper campaign really do the job? There are a few problems that must be overcome.

First of all, there are two anti-Harper camps. One group consists of strong NDP loyalists who dislike the Liberals just about as much or more than they hate the Conservatives. The other group is supporting either NDP or Liberal candidates in different ridings.

Given that just about everyone agrees that Harper is the Public Enemy Number One, the two camps should avoid feuding that could reduce the chances of defeating the Conservatives.

Strategic campaigning got off to a bad start when Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and an NDP loyalist, blasted Leadnow’s approach of electing either New Democrats or Liberals in 72 ridings where the Conservatives are believed to be vulnerable.

Unfortunately, Moist supports the NDP over the interests of the country: an analysis of the 72 target ridings shows that Leadnow will be supporting Liberals only in ridings where the NDP has no chance of winning.

Campaign truce urgently needed

The two sides need to have a truce concerning their campaigns. In fact, they should figure out where there are any strategic ridings where New Democrats oppose Liberals and decide how to resolve the issue. Given the importance of stopping Harper, perhaps they could support the same candidates in a handful of ridings.

More needs to be done. With only five weeks left in the campaign, there’s practically no cooperation among the more than a dozen large and small groups working to elect either New Democrats or Liberals. Some groups have the impression that the Elections Act prohibit them from co-operating, but this does not appear to be the case as the Act concerns itself only with advertising.

For the New Democrats, if Mulcair performs reasonably well and does not “out his foot in it”, strategic voting could bring the party a minority victory.

Groups need to co-operate to make sure that local polling is carried out in all ridings where Harper is vulnerable. Results must be shared and made public a few days before the advance polling dates, which run from October 9 to 12.

Groups also should co-operate to publish a list of the target ridings indicating which candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservative. Just publishing information on their own websites will not be enough to inform the hundreds-of-thousands of potential voters.

If either, or both, of the NDP voting campaign and the strategic voting campaign are successful, the Harper government will fall on October 19. If the NDP wins, Mulcair has promised to launch a process to introduce proportional representation. PR could bring us the kind of democracy we deserve and, thankfully, the end of strategic voting.



  1. I used to support the NDP, as did many other Green supporters in BC. But, believe it or not, they are working with the Conservatives to game the debates. Both NDP & Conservative strategists have been working towards a bi-polar system, excluding Liberals and Greens - not healthy for democracy or the planet. That being said, there are great NDP people in many places in Canada who deserve support. I hope they will work with the Greens who are likely to be elected in Fredericton, Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Guelph... towards REAL democracy. There are good Liberals too who I hope will be willing to work together for the common good. See this article for more explanation: http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/canadian-debate-gate

    1. It is nonsense to suggest the NDP is 'working' to exclude E May. The NDP has delivered many benefits to Canadians through decades of grassroots activism and being 'excluded'. If the Greens can't bring voters along with them why should the NDP do it for them.

    2. if mulcair was truly interested in democracy he would be behind elizabeth may being included in debates. oh, and he also followed harper in dropping out of women's debates. great guy. not.

  2. ".......the right wing reacted gleefully when the government announced a phoney surplus for last year of about $1-billion". Thomas Mulcair shamelessly bought into this as a validation that he could balance his budget. He did not once speak out about the fact that this phony 'surplus' was achieved on the backs of veterans, seniors, Aboriginals etc., groups who either lost their funding or didn't receive the funding they were due. Shame

  3. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP Socialist Caucus seem to agree that a balanced budget is fine as long as the right people are taxed and any proceeds distributed according to the greater good. They only argue over who and how much to tax. The problem with this approach is that overall spending in the economy is rearranged but not necessarily increased. So if the starting point is an economy in recession with 1.3 million unemployed, that situation is unlikely to change. The NDP could help some people, but would fail to achieve full employment and a fully productive economy.

    Currently consumers are tapped out with debt, corporations are hoarding money, and a trade deficit drains money from the domestic economy. The only sector left to provide stimulus is government. According to former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, provincial and federal governments should run budget deficits to fund infrastructure projects. And these deficits should perhaps be "of a considerable magnitude".


    1. Former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge

    Former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge said provincial and
    federal governments should run budget deficits to fund infrastructure
    projects, which would lift the economy and take pressure off the central
    bank to keep interest rates low.

    Such investments would provide a productivity boost to a nation that
    will struggle as an aging population shrinks the workforce, Dodge told
    reporters after a speech Wednesday in Ottawa. Low interest rates aimed
    at boosting private investment are also leading to undesirable gains in
    consumer spending and housing, he said.


    “The right thing to do is to run cash deficits and perhaps of a
    considerable magnitude,” he said.

    2. Mr. Harper’s recession

    "Economies can only grow from 4 possible sources: consumption, investment, government expenditures and exports. Consumers are too much in debt and wage growth is stagnant; private investment is flat (and in fact decining), net export are falling, and Mr. Harper wants to continue to pursue his foolish policy of austerity. This shows a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy, and a lack of leadership. We are well into long-term stagnation with little possibility of sustained growth."


    Modern Monetary Theory in Canada

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