the numbers guy

Mr Mulcair’s uphill battle in the NDP leadership election

Posted on: September 28, 2011

Following the sad passing of their former leader Jack Layton in August, the NDP are to hold a leadership election on 24 March 2012. Quite a number of candidates have already expressed an interest, with many analysts viewing party president Brian Topp and Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair as the leading contenders.

As the party’s leading figure in Quebec Mr Mulcair may seem, at first glance, to have a natural advantage in a party which holds 59 of Quebec’s 75 seats – nearly 60% of the current NDP caucus is from Quebec.

Mr Mulcair, however, has a major problem in that the NDP (unlike, for example, the Conservatives), uses a one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system to elect it’s leader, and NDP membership is very thin on the ground in his Quebec stronghold.

Membership figures released earlier this month reveal that the NDP in Quebec had just 1,695 members, out of a Canada-wide total of around 86,000 – (I couldn’t track down separate membership figures for each province in Atlantic Canada, so I lumped them together along with the three Arctic territories):

This weakness in Quebec has a number of root causes – the NDP has always been historically weak in the province, winning not a single seat before Mr Mulcair’s breakthrough in the 2007 Outremont by-election.

Quebec is also the one province which lacks an NDP provincial wing and so the federal NDP in Quebec fails to benefit from the kind of increase in membership gained in other provinces through provincial politics. For example, membership in BC more than doubled as a result of the provincial leadership election held this year.

The membership gap in Quebec is all the starker when we compare the percentage of NDP members from each province with the provincial populations:


And starker still when compared with the percentage of NDP MPs from each province:

Just 2% of NDP members are from Quebec – but over 57% of their House of Commons caucus is from the province.

Whoever eventually comes out on top in the leadership election will have enormous shoes to fill. Jack Layton took the party from the political margins to become Canada’s Official Opposition. The medium-term goal is clear – displace Harper and create Canada’s first NDP government.

To accomplish this, the party will surely need to improve it’s grassroots strength in Quebec and dispel speculation that their 2011 result in the province was a flash in the pan. Regardless of who wins the leadership, party strategists will doubtless be hoping the leadership election itself results in significant growth in Quebec membership – and an improved ability to deploy an effective ‘ground-game’ grassroots-based campaign in Quebec at the next election.

UPDATE: Here’s an analysis by Eric Grenier, author of the excellent Three Hundred Eight blog, about an Angus-Reid poll which looked at potential NDP support (broken down by province) under either Topp or Mulcair. I take Topp’s ratings in this poll with a pinch of salt as, unlike Mulcair, he’s still a largely unknown quantity to most of the Canadian electorate. The real test for Topp will come as he makes himself known to Canadians over the months ahead.

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1 Response to "Mr Mulcair’s uphill battle in the NDP leadership election"

[…] campaign is also hindered by the historical weakness of the NDP in his home province of Québec. Membership figures released last September showed the NDP with just 1,695 members in the province – just 2% of the total NDP membership […]

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