NDP leader’s promise of prairie breakthrough not as audacious as it sounds

On the face of it, Thomas Mulcair’s vow that he can revive NDP fortunes on the Prairies in 2015 seems implausible.

The NDP leader is a crusty Montreal lawyer and academic, critic of western resource development, a two-term NDP MP and a leader with little obvious connection to the Prairies or rural Canada.

Is he really the answer to the NDP’s 25 year drought on the Prairies?

Actually, without predicting a massive prairie voter migration to the NDP from the Conservatives in 2015 when the next election is held, there is reason to predict he may be partly correct.

More about that later.

First, a bit about the federal NDP leader who was the most successful on the Prairies in the party’s 50 year history.

No, it wasn’t that Baptist preacher from Weyburn, Sask., who was Sask-atchewan premier for 17 years, the first NDP leader when it was formed in 1961 and lionized as a Canadian hero.

Tommy Douglas bombed as leader on the Prairies.

In 1962, he lost his own Regina seat and the NDP was shut out of Sask-atchewan through three elections until a breakthrough in 1968 when six MPs were elected, making the Prairie total nine.

It wasn’t Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin, who despite her rural background didn’t get the party beyond six seats on the Prairies.

And it wasn’t Jack Layton, who led the party to a massive Quebec breakthrough in 2011 but never snagged a Saskatchewan seat in his four elections as leader and never more than five prairie seats.

Instead, the most successful federal NDP leader on the Prairies was a tweedy Toronto university professor who held a heavily urban and unionized seat in Oshawa, Ont.

Ed Broadbent led the party from 1975 to 1989, and during those years, it achieved an historic 14 prairie seats in 1980 and an historic 10 seats in Saskatchewan in 1988.

Broadbent’s leadership played an unknown role in those results, but it happened under his watch — an un-prairie guy who nonetheless had candidates and a campaign that connected.

The point is that being a central Canadian academic politician in no way need be an impediment to winning prairie seats for the party.

So what about Mulcair’s dream of ending the four-election seat drought in Saskatchewan?

The good news for him is that a mandatory redrawing of federal riding boundaries before the 2015 election means Saskatchewan will have several urban-dominated ridings that in the last two elections would have elected New Democrats if the boundaries had been the same.

Besides, the party is making a concerted effort to connect with western voters through the Lethbridge Declaration process of consulting.

Little of this relates to the rural Prairies that have been overwhelmingly Reform and Conservative since 1993. The opportunity seems to lie in the growing urban and immigrant populations of the West.

Still, veteran Winnipeg New Democrat Pat Martin makes a good point. Voters get tired of being taken for granted with their votes added to the party total before the vote is called.

It happened on the Prairies in 1993 when upstart Reform swept away a Tory stranglehold that had existed since John Diefenbaker’s day.

In 2011, the NDP swept away the Bloc Québécois that had dominated the province for 18 years.

Those examples give the NDP some hope for 2015 on the Prairies.

  • Purple Library Guy

    Two words: Wheat Board.
    By 2015 the results of losing it will be biting. It’s a giant example to rural prairie dwellers that the Conservatives are not on their side and will give them the mushroom treatment any time there’s a way big business can rip them off. Might not lose the Conservatives any seats, but it’s certainly a wedge that might be used to pry off some prairie votes.

  • Jayson

    I agree with Pat Martin, I just wish it was actually true. Farmers need to learn how politics work, you don’t get rewarded for voting the exact same way regardless of person or platform. You get taken for granted by the party you voted for because they know they have your vote and you get brushed aside by the other parties because they know it’s a lost cause doing anything nice for you as it won’t do them any good at election time.

    This may seem a little rich coming from Pat Martin who serves as MP in a solid orange riding, but he works hard. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s jumping up and down screaming for what he thinks is right. Speaking his own mind and thinking for himself, even if it gets his knuckles rattled.

    Then you compare that to the nerve of some of these blue riding Conservative MPs and the gullibility of the people who vote for them. They don’t show up at debates during campaigns and the only thing you hear from them is talking points giving to them by party headquarters. Would you hire someone who didn’t show up for the job interview and then instead of talking for themselves, just read from a script that their parent’s wrote? Of course not!

    The campaign is a job interview for a very important and well-paying job that you have to pay the salary for and will be affected by their performance in, but yet these candidates are allowed to just sail in because they run under the right colour.