The crisis in the NDP

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

As delegates prepare for its April 8-10 Edmonton convention, the federal NDP membership is in turmoil. As a group of Quebec members wrote, the party has lost its way.

The New Democratic Party needs to redefine itself in a new political environment.

Many NDP voters are happy with the Trudeau government; for example, 70 per cent liked its March budget.

Overall, support for the NDP has dropped to just-above single digits. At one point during the election, it was at 37 per cent.

The Liberals have announced their intention to transform their party from a membership-based organization to a party open to all.

Instead of only dues-paying Liberals nominating candidates, attending policy conventions, choosing a leader, or attending a party convention, anyone will be able to participate in all these activities by registering with the party.

The welcome mat is out for progressives. A not-too-subtle appeal is being made to those who lean NDP or normally vote for it.

As the Liberals see it, in the digital age, many, many computerized contacts is better than a much smaller number of dues-paying members.

Building on their success enlisting 300,000 people as party supporters able to vote in the last leadership race -- many of whom volunteered in the election -- the Liberals have decided to open up the party.

A new Liberal constitution will be approved at its May convention.

The NDP leadership needs to respond to the same new political age challenges as the Liberal party. 

The party leadership also has to face a dramatic reversal in NDP fortunes.

Finding an answer as to why so many fine NDP MPs were defeated and why the party lost so badly in places such as downtown Toronto -- where the NDP vote fell to 13 per cent -- is the first step in preparing the future.

The NDP Election Review points to major failures in internal communication.

In 2016, campaign headquarters was unable or unwilling to adjust its campaign messages to insights gathered at the door in local ridings.

The party misread the economic situation. The oil price collapse was a major external shock to jobs, incomes and government finances.

Canada went into recession in the first half of 2015; revenues had to fall and expenditures grow. Instead of responding, the NDP platform remained tailored to meet National Post, Globe and Mail and CBC ideas that balanced budgets were the measure of fiscal policy.

An excellent idea -- universal child care -- was promoted at $15 a day when it was already available in Quebec at $7 a day. Quebec was the electoral base the party had to hold. What were Quebec voters supposed to think when the main NDP platform plank asked them to pay more for something that was already available?

The overall tone and appearance of the campaign was dull and uninspiring. The air game of TV and radio spots was undistinguished. The Election Review makes these points and others about the ineptitude of the campaign effort.

Unusually, the NDP did not have a working Election Planning Committee overseeing the campaign. After months of Tom Mulcair speaking about introducing good public administration into government, his campaign was poorly run.

The party was right to focus on the damage to Canada wrought by Stephen Harper. But calling on voters to elect Tom Mulcair as prime minister failed to attract support.

Harper was his own worst enemy. His decision to double the length of the electoral campaign, stretching it to nearly three months, gave Justin Trudeau a gift of badly needed time for him to build momentum and demonstrate his superior campaign skills.

The practice of prime ministerial government, which has overwhelmed traditional parliamentary democracy, has its counterpart in a leader-directed NDP.

In 2016, as in 1988, the free trade election, the party was way out of step with its supporters.

The need for change is evident to the party membership, which tires of being considered primarily as donors.

Leaving party business to Federal Council and the party director is not going to mobilize people.

The NDP structure based on provincial party memberships is antiquated. Party practices have to be updated, riding associations rejuvenated.

The NDP needs to reconnect to activism.

As the CCF, the party was born out of farm, labour and social justice movements.

The history of struggles such as that by women for the vote shows that democracy needs to create space for citizen action in order to flourish.

A stage-managed convention will lead to anger and growing discontent, or worse, apathy and indifference.

In Edmonton, the NDP leadership has to make democratic space for the 1,500 expected delegates.

Duncan Cameron is the former president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Devyn Caldwell/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.