The NDP surge means that there is now a chance to advance progressive politics in Canada by a generation.   If the potential electoral breakthrough for the NDP can be realized, it would shift the centre of debate and social consensus to the left, after moving steadily in the other direction for the last generation.  The NDP may be even be positioned as a real option for a new government of the centre-left: perhaps later or perhaps sooner.

No wonder that old political institutions and the media thought masters who have never considered the left to have a legitimate role in the mainstream of the nation are now lining up to stop or deflect the change that could be at hand.

The Liberal Party is attacking the NDP with a fury.  “Not so fast, Jack,” it is saying as it accuses the NDP of inexperience and spendthrift economics.  But I doubt the old LPC attacks will work very well this time because they have advanced a platform which is not very different in its economic fundamentals.  In spite of their platform, the Liberals have an enormous credibility gap on the left, and their panic stricken attacks on Jack Layton only widen that gap.

There is a similar refrain echoing from media commentators who are suddenly arguing that NDP policies must now be given a new and closer scrutiny. It’s a bit much from many of these same voices who for years ignored anyone who refused to drink the Kool-Aid of neo-Liberal economics and the “Washington consensus” of globalization, privatization and deregulation. I have yet to hear any of the 5 pm TV analysts suggest that the shift towards the NDP may in part be the result of the global financial crisis and the ensuing brutal recession that deepened social inequality.

Many progressives are genuinely worried about vote splitting that could give Harper a majority. But I have not seen any credible, comprehensive analysis that shows the NDP surge by itself to result in a Conservative majority. In fact, most of the projections show that if any party will defeat a good number of Conservative incumbents, it is the NDP, especially in Western Canada. It is also possible that a surging NDP could replace a number of Liberals or Bloc Quebecois, but those shifts are by definition irrelevant to a Harper majority.

Certainly, it is a problem that the Conservatives appear to have a surge of their own in suburban Toronto where they may defeat a number of Liberals.  However that was a problem before the NDP numbers took off and it is difficult to imagine what the NDP can do about the fundamental weakness of the Liberals in their own strongholds.  

The most understandable concern over the new NDP strength is in Quebec. Many BQ Members of Parliament have their roots in the Quebec labour movement, as does Gilles Duceppe himself. Remarkably, Quebec’s largest labour body, the FTQ, adopted its election statement endorsing the Bloc on April 11 and did not mention the “NPD.”

Regardless of the number of NDP wins in Quebec, there is no doubt that this campaign will result in an analytical and soul searching debate in the Quebec labour and progressive movements. The NDP gains in Quebec could not take place without the support of former BQ voters who seem to be saying that class and social issues are the priority today, not sovereignty. To the extent that the NPD and the BQ share a centre-left social agenda, the result of the NDP gains is that at this moment 60% or more of Quebecers are choosing progressive political options — a new high even for Quebec.

At the end of the day, a certain measure of strategic voting is as natural as getting up at the beginning of the day.  There are places where next week progressives will make informed choices to defeat a Conservative.  But this election is not now, in this last week, about strategic voting anymore.  It is no longer merely defensive and tactical.  The election is now an opening for the left and an historic opportunity for progressive Canadians and for the social movements to take a place in the mainstream of our politics, instead of being shut out, marginalized and taken for granted.


Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson is the assistant to the President of Unifor.