Tories Can't Rely On A Strong NDP
There’s a myth in Conservative circles that in order for a centre-right party to win a federal election, it requires a strong NDP in order to split the left-wing vote with the Liberals. Stephen Harper’s one-and-done majority win in 2011 suggests this is the case. The last time the Conservatives won a majority before that was 1988, when Brian Mulroney got a second term due in no small measure to Ed Broadbent’s NDP having their best showing up to that point in history. With Jagmeet Singh as the new leader of the NDP, the Conservatives can’t rely on a strong NDP having big numbers of voters pulling ballots from the Liberals. Jagmeet is going to offer a different sort of foil to the Liberals and the Conservatives are only going to be able to exploit this development if they embrace a new strategy.
“New Democrats simply possess no real base beyond the narrow confines of what we might call "NDP World" -- militant union bosses, anti-everything eco-extremists, dogmatic staffers of the inner-city charity-industrial complex, out-of-touch professors in fringe faculties, and other assorted avant-garde types who define themselves by their alienation (if not hostility) to anything that reeks of society's mainstream.” ~ JJ McCullough
Initially, I believed Jagmeet Singh would be the perfect candidate to cannibalize Justin Trudeau. They are ideologically twinned, but Jagmeet has the advantage of not being white or (culturally) Christian and thus more attractive to identity-politics obsessed new-left voters. There’s another wing of NDP supporters that are more traditional and blue collar, and they don’t fit into the mold of “NDP World” voters anymore. The real opportunity for Scheer’s Conservatives doesn’t reside in the traditional “Liberals bleeding votes to a strong NDP” strategy from the past, but in “Liberals & NDP bleeding centrist votes to the Conservatives”.
This is, however, only looking at voting patterns from the left/right perspective. There are two other recent factors that are changing the game once again and I’ll touch upon those factors quickly below...
#1. Canadians are tired of Liberal sanctimony and incompetence
The poll dropping Liberals are a result of Trudeau’s antics transforming from delightful & refreshing to foolish & embarrassing. The Canadian mainstream has soured on the style of Trudeau...and style was all he really had. Without style, the lack of substance reveals the incompetence and arrogance of the Liberals all the more glaringly. The new-left ideology was never really embraced by mainstream voters the way in which the progressive vanguard likes to believe it was, so now that the style has soured, the ideology just looks that much more lame. As a result, the Canadian mainstream is more likely to veer to the Conservative Party as an antidote to the Liberal brand, rather than jumping towards a New Democrat Party that embraces the worst of what the Liberal brand already stands for.
#2. The New Democrat Party is a disordered mess
Since civic disengagement is becoming so severe in Canada, many political parties are vulnerable to outside organizations rallying their people and swamping the democratic process. Many long-term, stalwart members of the NDP found themselves splitting the vote between three sitting MP’s, while Jagmeet grabbed the reins of power by mobilizing his community of supporters.
The problem now is division and disharmony between members...both inside the party structure and at a grassroots level. The entire David Christopherson affair is our first big insight into the shambolic status of the NDP. When party infighting becomes the headline, voters tend to recoil from any support. The attitude is, “If you can’t run a political party why should I vote for you to run the country?”
Where does this leave the Conservatives?
They have substance and not just style and they aren’t a dysfunctional mess of infighting, but unlike 1988 and 2011, they aren’t going to be able to rely on a strong NDP pulling votes away from the Liberals and allowing Conservatives to run up the middle. For this reason I suggest the Conservatives trade some ideological purity for blue-collar populism and aggressively go after the non-new-left, non-Sikh, NDP vote in 2019.
Let’s do the five W’s…
Who: With Jack Layton, the NDP pulled in 4,508,474 votes. Four years later Thomas Mulcair lost over a million voters and got 3,470,350 in the 2015 election. I doubt people who voted for a Mulcair NDP in 2015 are likely to vote for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2019. If they weren’t buying it then, all the more reason not to buy it now. They are also likely questioning their commitment to the current incarnation of the NDP due to the above mentioned reasons in this article. Even if the Conservatives could steal a third of those votes with some fine-tuned policy compromises, it would be enough to push them well into majority territory.
The general idea is to appeal to the nuts & bolts New Democrats of the old-left. People who may belong to a union, but aren’t that happy about it. People who care about the poor because they’re almost poor themselves. People who work hard for a private company, but are suspicious of big business. Religious types that prioritize generosity and compassion over “smart conservative policies”. People who want some more free stuff so their lives are a little easier. Leave the “NDP World” folks to scramble over the partisan remains of their party and reach out to the more normal NDP voters, many of whom are essentially conservatives...but vote with an appetite for collective government largesse.
What: Andrew Scheer needs to believe in something beyond balanced budgets and no carbon tax. Some of the planks that the NDP care about most could be laterally maneuvered into a Conservative platform. Examples?
Jean Chretien eliminated the nationally set minimum wage back in the 90’s. Conservatives could set a national minimum wage under the guise of national unity and poverty reduction. Make it $15.00 an hour nationwide. Yeah, I’ve read the literature and I know the talking points, but the fact is that people widely support minimum wage increases. Business owners don’t support it, but a Conservative government could compensate by slashing their business taxes in a way that leftist parties refuse to.
Adopt Pharmacare as a policy. It would cost $19.3 billion a year to cover the cost of everyone’s prescriptions. The preventative spin-off is hard to calculate, but there’s worse things to compromise on than providing necessary drugs for people. Seniors would love it and Conservatives could get back all the votes they lost due to the whole mailbox thing and the OAS age increase thing.
(If the Scheer Conservatives rolled back spending to Harper’s last year in power they’d instantly have a $50 billion surplus. All the garbage budgets that Morneau has tabled could be undone AND we’d get free prescription drugs AND run a surplus. Not bad.)
Universal dental care? See above.
Triple the amounts for the Child Care Tax? We’ve got a demographic death spiral happening in Canada. What are Conservatives conserving if not the very future itself?
These are a handful of “Conservative-NDP” compromises. They appeal to normal people with day-to-day concerns. Leave the climate thumping, LGBTQ debating, anti-pipeline, Israel-hating, gender-pay-gap obsessing, whack-a-mole issues for “NDP World” to worry about.
Where: There’s probably 10 NDP seats that could flip to the Conservatives if this strategy is followed. Places like Essex and Winnipeg and Kootenay-Columbia and all of Saskatchewan are possible areas that can flip orange to blue. The more important result, however, would be in the ridings where the Conservatives were close behind the Liberals. Ridings like Peterborough-Kawartha or King-Vaughan or Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge...in which the runner-up Conservative could have squeaked out a win if only a few percentage points could have been siphoned from the NDP.
You can’t fight the next election on the basis of the last one, but the fact that the Conservatives had such a strong showing at a time when the pendulum of democracy was swinging against them shows that next time, with a little tent broadening, the election is a slam dunk.
When: After the policy convention in August the dust needs to settle and then the real campaign platform can be crafted. I’m all for grassroots input, but card-carrying members tend not to be very forward looking or win orientated. Conservative party members are often rabid ideologues or virtually apolitical and involved in the party due only to social, family or cultural reasons. It’s up to the executive brass to incorporate winning policy and sell it to the membership. Hijacking NDP policies and consequently conservatizing them won’t be easy, but it is essential to avoid “stuck in the 90’s” conservative sclerosis.
Why: To win.
The next election is unlikely to result in a three way race. Hoping for a strong NDP in order to siphon off left-leaning Liberal votes and running up the middle with a Tory win isn’t the strategy to attempt this time. Jagmeet and Justin are too similar and will be aiming at the same narrow, new-left hipster crowd. Jagmeet will have a new Sikh-wing in his corner that will be too concentrated to provide much NDP electoral advantage. As Justin and Jagmeet battle each other over who’s the most wokest social justice warrior of them all, millions of Paul Martin-styled Liberals will look on dumbfounded. Millions of pragmatic NDP supporters will likewise be baffled. Andrew Scheer needs to cede the SJW battlefield to Jagmeet & Justin and then swoop up millions of new and alienated voters with a broad-based conservative populism that will crush the other two parties into the leftist fringe. With some cultural finesse in Quebec, some economic stridency in the West, some confident nationalism in Ontario and a couple of NDP policy swipes...Andrew Scheer could be looking at eclipsing the massive Tory wins of 1958 and 1984.