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What is a Party to Do?

Hello everyone, this is my first real long-form post here. I thought I’d get started with something political (everyone loves politics, right??). I was thinking about this at work the other day, and I realized that even though the next Canadian federal election is almost four years away (Wikipedia tells me that it’s tentatively scheduled for October 19, 2015), each party has a few things they can do/keep in mind when getting things ready for 2015. Here are a few things that each party ought to consider if they hope to improve their standing in the House of Commons. I’ll arrange them by seats in the House.

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party has the majority in the House, winning 166 seats in the last election. That clearly gives them a massive advantage in an election campaign, and if there’s one thing the Tories do well, it’s campaign. They are expert fundraisers, and are able to outspend, out-advertise and out-attack their rivals, to great effect. The country has been growing bluer and bluer with each of the last three elections, and quite frankly the next election could very well be the Conservatives’ to lose. With a 60+ seat advantage over the runner-up NDP, they’ve got a heck of a head start. However, four years can be a loooooong time for a party in power. Favour can change pretty quick in politics, and Conservatives have a first-hand account of how that can happen. In the late 1980s the old Progressive Conservative Party under Brian Mulroney had about the same number of seats that the CPC have now, but scandal, poor economic progress and unpopularity saw the PCs drop from 169 seats to 2 (not a typo) in the 1993 election. If the Conservatives want to avoid a similar fate, they need to take advantage of their majority mandate and listen to what Canadians want from their government. They need to know their status in the House is not a carte blanche to do what they want, when they want, how they want. Keeping the best interests of the country in mind is something they need to do in the next four years to hold onto their position in the polls. Avoiding scandal, revitalizing a weak economy and working on behalf of all Canadians are all major themes for the Tories, and while scandal hasn’t exactly evaded them (what party is perfect, though?), it’s hard to say what the long-term repercussions will be. If the Conservatives can’t keep their hands clean, so to speak, they might be in for a world of trouble.

If the Tories can make inroads into Quebec, it would be to their massive benefit. These ridings have long eluded the Conservatives, but making headway into Quebec could spell big gains for the Tories. Holding Ontario is important too. Ontario has long been Liberal territory, but turned blue over the last few elections. I imagine a considerable deal of this Conservative support is stemmed in a general disdain for the governing Liberal Party of Ontario (a comparison of the voting patterns of the 2011 federal and provincial elections suggests this as well) in the areas outside of major metropolitan cities. If the Conservatives lose Ontario and fail to gain in Quebec, Stephen Harper may be moving out of 24 Sussex sooner than he hoped.

New Democratic Party

The NDP is in a very tricky situation right now. I’d be willing to bet that a significant portion of their unprecedented success in the last election was directly a result of the late Jack Layton. As leader, Layton was charismatic, likeable, and a straight-shooter. If the NDP hopes to keep or improve their lot, they’re gonna have to elect a leader with similar qualities, who can inspire the same faith in the party that Layton was able to. They’ll need to hold tight onto Quebec, too. Quebec has long been a Liberal haven, and if their new leader is unable to hold the NDP’s 59 seats in Quebec, it’s easy to see them going red again. While the NDP shouldn’t face much opposition from the Tories in Quebec, strengthening their position in Ontario will require a significant bleeding of blue seats, and I don’t foresee many Conservative seats jumping far enough left to land at the NDP. The NDP could pick a few more up in the Maritimes and maybe in BC, but since over half their seats are in Quebec, they’ll want to hang on to those as tightly as possible. The NDP have already seen a seat lost to a floor-crossing to the Liberals, and could lose another in a by-election next month. If they’re losing seats already so soon after the election, it might be an indication that their fortunes are slipping. However, NDP membership is way up since their leadership race started, so things may not be too grim for the NDP.

A big problem the NDP could face is the association many Canadians made between Jack Layton and the party as a whole. It’s hard to say right now how many people voted for Jack Layton vs how many voted for the NDP, but the next leader could be a boon or a burden. Whoever the new leader is, they will inevitably be compared to Layton in every way. If the leader falls short of expectations, it could be doomsday for the orange team.

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party is an established brand. They’ve been around forever and have governed Canada for a significant portion of the 20th century. They’re sometimes referred to as “Canada’s Natural Governing Party,” and given their electoral track record in the last 100 years it’s tough to dispute that. However, the Liberals find themselves in uncharted waters – third party in the House, a revolving door of leaders, nasty infighting, voter disillusionment, and, well, having no money. If the Grits are going to improve their fortunes in 2015, they need to restructure the party from the ground up. Get rid of the old guard and bring in some fresh new life and ideas. Reach out to the grassroots, figure out what Canadians want from their center-left party. People have often accused the Liberals of being out-of-touch, so a grassroots focus could do wonders for the rebuilding of the brand.

Another thing the Liberals need to do is not assume the Conservatives are simply keeping the Prime Minister’s Office warm for whoever the Liberal Party elects as their leader next year. When you’re in power as long and as often as the Liberals have been, it’s easy to slip into this way of thinking, and the Grits would be wise to avoid it. Never assume power will fall into your lap – if the Liberals are serious about taking back the PMO, they need to show they’re willing to earn it back. Very few people would put any money on a Liberal Prime Minister come 2015, but a strong showing could at least put them back in the Opposition offices. Strong leadership has evaded the party for the better part of the last 10 years, which has been disastrous for the Liberals. With Bob Rae in the chair for the time being, they have someone with a lifetime of political experience in charge. Whether Rae will seek the permanent job is still a bit of a question mark, and they’re scheduled to hold a leadership race next spring. The new leader will have over two and half years on the job by the time the election rolls around, plenty of time to make or break a campaign.

The Liberals need to reclaim some old strongholds that have slipped out of their hands in the last few years. Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes were traditionally painted red on election night, and much to the dismay of Liberals nationwide these areas were blue and orange in May. If the Liberals can’t get their footing back in Ontario and Quebec, well, I hope their current offices are comfy, because the Grits won’t be going anywhere.

Green Party

The Green Party’s biggest hurdle, I think, is that most people probably view them as a one-issue party, with that issue being the environment and conservation. While this is an important issue, the Greens will need to really show everyone that their platform can extend beyond the environment (while it’s true that it does, most people likely still see them as the environment party). A sound economic strategy (provided the economy continues to be a hot issue in four years) and robust social policy that are researched, well-argued and budgeted could make a world of difference for the Greens. Emphasizing these other policies can only help them communicate that “Hey! We’re not just environmentalists!!”

Additionally, now that party leader Elizabeth May holds a seat in Parliament and will thus be invited to participate in all official leadership debates, a strong performance from her in the debates could hold the key to a few more seats if progressive voters find themselves disillusioned with the NDP and Liberals. With three years, the Greens also need to fundraise, fundraise, fundraise if they hope to be able to launch a significant national campaign.

While these are not the only things these parties need to do, these are just a few ideas I came up with today.



Hello to all those who might find their way here,

I had the idea to start this blog the other day as a way of communicating my musings on things like music, politics, books, movies, and basically whatever else strikes my fancy. I hope you enjoy it and stick around for updates, however infrequent they may be. My hope is to upload something at least once a week. I welcome discussion and discourse on the subjects about which I post, though I hope such commentary is done in a mature, respectful manner.

Anyway, welcome to my blog, and I hope you enjoy what you find. I hope it makes you laugh, makes you think, maybe even makes you consider a new perspective.