The deceased NDP leader’s legacy in Manitoba could be to inspire the legions of volunteers needed to give the province its fourth consecutive NDP government.
At his recent local nomination meeting in the constituency of St. Boniface, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced he was dedicating the 2011 provincial NDP campaign to late NDP leader Jack Layton. To many observers on both the right and left, Selinger’s dedication was regarded as cynical: The Winnipeg Sun, a right-wing tabloid, described the decision as “sophomoric,” while political commentator and former NDP cabinet minister Sid Green wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press that the premier’s dedication “denigrates” Layton’s memory.
Whether it was a heartfelt gesture or a cringe-worthy attempt to win votes, references to this dedication are now absent in the current media coverage, which has moved on to other matters.
Jeremy Richler examines the NDP’s prospects in a post-Layton world here.
Leaving aside all the recent outpourings from Manitoba and elsewhere about Layton’s passing, what does the federal NDP in 2011 mean to Manitobans? The so-called “Orange Wave” of public support – including the party’s historic Quebec breakthrough – that carried the NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time masks the federal party’s lack of support in Manitoba. Despite the fact that the NDP increased its seat total in the House of Commons from 36 (at dissolution) to 103 on May 2, its share of Manitoba’s 14 seats decreased from four to two (albeit with a small increase in popular vote – from 24 per cent to 26 per cent). In Manitoba, the NDP now holds only the northern riding of Churchill and the urban riding of Winnipeg Centre, having narrowly lost the ridings of Elmwood-Transcona and Winnipeg North.
In fact, the only federal riding in Manitoba where any evidence of Layton’s Orange Wave appeared was Winnipeg South Centre, where Dennis Lewycky increased the NDP’s previous share of the vote. This, however, produced a victory for Conservative candidate Joyce Bateman and led to an unseating of Liberal incumbent Anita Neville by 722 votes.
Now that the federal election is a thing of the past, and we are into a provincial election, to what extent do voters transfer their party preferences from the provincial to the federal level? When we examine Probe Research’s polling data, we see that the Conservatives in Manitoba hold onto more than 80 per cent of their supporters when shifting between the two levels, while those who support the NDP provincially – termed “Doer Democrats” prior to former premier Gary Doer’s departure from provincial politics – split their support between the Liberals and the NDP during federal elections. In other words, prior to his passing, Jack Layton’s connection to supporters of the provincial NDP was more tenuous than Stephen Harper’s connection with supporters of Manitoba Progressive Conservatives.
The race for the federal NDP leadership is on. Read about it here to get up to speed.
It is doubtful that Jack Layton’s passing will have a strong impact on voter choice here in Manitoba, or in many of the other six provincial/territorial elections taking place this fall (with the possible exception of Ontario). Its real impact for the Manitoba election is how it has helped galvanize party workers and volunteers. If anything, the media coverage of Layton’s funeral, and his departing words in his deathbed letter, highlighted the party’s social-democratic principles and its relevance to Canadians. In response to these events, anyone holding a NDP membership card (this author not being one of those people) likely would have felt pride in being connected with the party.
Just as Liberals drew strength from the Pierre Trudeau legacy during the dark days of Brian Mulroney, NDP volunteers now have their own beacon in the form of Jack Layton, a figure more attuned to the times than the party’s pioneering figures of Tommy Douglas or J.S. Woodsworth.
As the Manitoba NDP seeks to win a historic fourth-term majority, we look once again at the numbers. A Probe Research poll released in June revealed that the PCs and NDP were tied, with the PCs challenging the NDP in its urban stronghold of Winnipeg. At the same time, two-thirds of Manitobans reported that the province was “heading in the right direction.” In another poll taken 10 months ago, however, 49 per cent reported that “it is now time for a change” with only a third (34 per cent) saying the NDP should be elected.
The Mark’s news editor, Mike Barber, ponders the message that Jack Layton left to a generation of youth here.
What does all this mean? We can say that while Manitobans are generally a happy bunch, they might be seeking a change in government. For the NDP, the idea of “change for change’s sake,” or voter complacency among its own supporters, is the real threat to the party’s hold on power.
Layton’s example and final message to supporters might help counter this effect. His legacy should inspire NDP candidates, as well as those working the phones, lawn-sign crews, campaign office workers, scrutineers, and those who drive voters on election day. These are individuals who are often not recognized for the time and work they put into a campaign. Selinger’s campaign dedication to Layton has an air of self-interest, but it also appears rooted in his desire to remind NDP supporters that, even if close to half of Manitobans feel it is time for a change in government, Layton’s parting message is a clarion call for loyal NDP workers to try harder to convince voters that it is not a time for change.
Photo courtesy of Reuters.