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Note to NDP -- take a deep breath and avoid hubris

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Photo: Joe Cressy/flickr

Nobody who supports or even just likes the New Democratic Party should hyperventilate over the NDP "surge" in post-Alberta-election public opinion polls.

These things -- opinion polls -- come and go, and leading in a poll in May will not win you a single seat in October.

There were Liberal supporters who talked freely about what they planned to do once their party formed a majority government back in 2013, when they were riding high in the polls.

One wanted to tell them: take these numbers with a big grain of salt. Polls describe the past; they do not predict the future.

Back then, and until quite recently, the Liberals and their allies tried to use their favourable poll numbers as an argument for so-called strategic voting.

Don't waste your vote on the perennial party of protest, they argued.

The NDP may happen to be the Official Opposition now, they would say, but that was an accident, brought on by one of those periodic massive "protest votes" in Quebec. Don't count on that next time.

If you want to unseat Stephen Harper, they told any voter who would listen, you have to support our Trudeau and his gang.

That was hubris.

Today, the New Democrats might have the right to believe the shoe is on the other foot, but they should avoid that hubris like the plague.

Notley's win and C-51

The only legitimate response to favourable opinion polls is to put your nose to the grindstone and work as hard you can to earn the fleeting and ephemeral support polls describe.

The Alberta vote may be one reason for the NDP's seemingly stronger position. And the New Democrats' numbers are not only up in Rachel Notley land, they are also higher in neighbouring British Columbia (according to two polls, one exclusive to B.C.) and, notably, in Quebec, which has become something of the New Democrats' heartland.

But the Alberta election may only be part of the story. One should not discount the NDP's high-risk and principled position on Bill C-51.

At the time Thomas Mulcair's party decided to say nay to the Harper government's so-called "anti-terror" legislation, it looked like a noble but electorally losing proposition.

In February, shortly after the Harper government tabled C-51, this writer wrote:

"The Prime Minister's game is an appeal to irrational and inchoate fear. And, for now, he appears to be winning. After all, even some of those who say they utterly despise Harper appear, at this point, to be convinced by his appeal to fear and fear alone. The Liberals don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. They have agreed to support Bill C-51 before there has been even one minute of debate on it in the House. The thankless task of doing legislative due diligence and fulfilling the constitutional role of a parliamentary opposition falls to the NDP."

What a difference three months make.

Today, the Liberals' pretzel position of voting for C-51, while promising to change it if elected, does not seem to make many voters happy.

The Liberals may be sincere in their tortured position, but it makes at least some voters think of an unsavory aspect of the Liberal political personality that the young and fresh Justin Trudeau was supposed to have banished.

Call it opportunism. Call it an obsession with power for its own sake. Call it an overweening sense of entitlement. Call it what you will.

Voting for C-51, while promising to modify it in a number of not-yet-clear ways, seems too cute by half to many voters, especially young voters. Supporting Harper's bill has taken some of the sheen off Justin Trudeau's carefully constructed image of the "non-politician," the incarnation of youth and high-minded idealism.

Tom Mulcair, whom Trudeau not too long ago dismissed condescendingly as an old-school pol, was the one who took the high road on C-51, and, to date, it has seemed to help more than hurt him.

Do not forget the team

Now, with a bit of wind at their back, NDPers may want to start emphasizing to voters, and to the national media, that they have been here, in Parliament, since 2011, applying themselves dutifully to the role of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

The NDP leader is a strong performer, which many have recognized. Tom Mulcair is the best opposition leader since John Diefenbaker, said former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

But the Official Opposition party is not a one-man band.

It has a legion of folks who do their homework, who show up at committees prepared and ready to work, and who prepare themselves dilgently to participate in detailed and substantive debates on legislation, even if it sometimes seems nobody is listening.

The NDP's effective and capable parliamentarians include some who have more than a bit of experience, such as Peter Julian, Nathan Cullen, Jack Harris, Peggy Nash, Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus and Megan Leslie.

But many of its class-of-2011 newcomers, especially among the large contingent from Quebec, have also risen to the occasion.

Among those are Alexandre Boulerice, Guy Caron, Françoise Boivin, Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, Sadia Groguhé and Hélène Laverdière.

When you look down from the galleries at Tom Mulcair's 96 MPs, you can see plenty of cabinet timber. Mulcair has as much talent and expertise on his team as did Stephen Harper in the early 2000s, when he was on the eve of taking power -- maybe more.  

It might be fair to say, today, that NDPers are better prepared to assume power than are the third-party Liberals.

That was not the case -- or, at least, not the widespread perception -- when then-NDP leader Ed Broadbent and his party led the polls for a while, early in the run-up to the 1988 election.

Back then, Broadbent had 30 MPs, none of them from Quebec. They may have punched above their weight, but it was hard for many Canadians, and especially Canadians in the national media, to see the third party as a government in waiting.

As for the current Official Opposition group -- well, journalists will not see it as their role to make sure Canadians know who they are and what they can or cannot do.

In this leadership-obsessed time, the NDP may want to make sure it does not neglect to tell the story of its team as well as that of its leader.

Photo: Joe Cressy/flickr

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