Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mulcair's Shrewd Gambit

It is quite fascinating to digest the narrative Mulcair has chosen in the early days of his leadership. An economic argument, Mulcair can't seem to stop talking about "dutch disease", the high dollar, the regional disparity, within the "new" Canadian economy. Mulcair's thrust has been labelled divisive, but I see it as intellectually necessary, as well as potentially quite shrewd politically. There is a very large electoral audience that will be receptive to Mulcair's message, whatever alienation occurs will have little impact on NDP fortunes. Despite all the talk about a shift "west" in Canada, simple electoral math still shows a very plausible path to power that excludes much of the "changing landscape".

In the next election, a party will need 170 seats to form a majority, perhaps 130 odd seats will be enough for a functioning minority. Mulcair has intentionally singled out three provinces with his message, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, arguing that our artificially high dollar greatly harms the manufacturing sector. Of note, those three provinces ALONE count for 209 seats with the new distribution next election, the one that supposedly moves power west. It is quite reasonable to posit Mulcair could well sweep Quebec in the next election, this "dutch disease" message will resonate all day long in a province with little sympathy for the "oil patch". People can scoff all they want, but if you can deliver Quebec, score 50 or 60 seats, you start with a very formidable base from which to propel yourself, that fact still remains part of the Canadian electoral equation.

Where Mulcair really starts to intrigue, Ontario in particular, because I sense a very receptive audience to this economic message.  People in Ontario are very sensitive to the dollar arguments, everyone understands the importance, there is a simple sophistication that average people understand.  We can talk about productivity, innovation, competitiveness, but at a certain point it's all irrelevant should a soaring dollar price us out of the market.  As well, there is a suspicion about these "economic benefits" Ontario supposedly reaps from the development of the energy sector.  Of course an acknowledgement of equalization payments, a process known well in this parts, given past "powerhouse" considerations.  That said, Mulcair's message has the potential to hit home in a fundamental way; almost advocacy in tone, championing concerns felt here, in a place which just happens to have 121 seats in the next election, 36% of the electorate.  If Mulcair is truly moving the NDP to the center, then this core economic message has some interesting potential in Ontario, make no mistake about it.  A strong Quebec core makes the NDP a "viable" alternative, once they've crossed that threshold in the minds of voters, all traditional bets are off in Ontario.  We see this reality today, massive support in Quebec impacting national numbers, appearing very much a true alternative to the rest of the country as well.

The NDP aren't going anywhere in Alberta next election no matter, ditto for their former stronghold in Saskatchewan.  The NDP are strong in British Columbia, this "dutch disease" message from Mulcair might well prove a net neutral, alienating some, but maintaining some core urban support, enough to win seats, pad the national numbers.  There is little downside in the Mulcair message for Atlantic Canada, apart from Newfoundland, there is an intuitive sympathy for the argument.  My point being, despite all this talk about the new electoral math, Mulcair's argument can resonate with wide swaths of the electorate, his views aren't reckless, but potentially quite impactful.  That this is a economic message from Mulcair that he articulates well, should also not be ignored. It is on this file the NDP face their greatest credibility hurdle and he may just be turning a liability into a central talking point.

A strong "central" Canada coalition, with sprinklings of support elsewhere is still a winning combination. Despite the new math pundits keep harping on, 18 new seats have been created in this central region, only 12 in the "west", which actually means greater importance, not less, in appealing to Ontario and Quebec.  Mulcair isn't crazy, this gambit is actually quite shrewd and a KEY angle to monitor moving forward.


bigcitylib said...

Anything anti-Northern Gateway will play well in BC,

sunsin said...

Indeed and amen. Especially with the provincial "Liberals" crapping all over the brand in BC. There's going to be hell to pay if Harper tries to put his pipeline through, First Nations on the front line with MASSIVE popular support from the rest of the residents of BC.

Skinny Dipper said...

I have determined that Mulcair will likely go after the support of Canadians living in urban Canada and in the rural non-agricultural parts of Canada. He won't likely go for suburburban voters and ridings that are largely farming rural except for Quebec. His target will be people who voted Conservative in the last federal election. A few Liberal stragglers will help.

In Alberta, the NDP may pick up an extra seat or two in Edmonton. That is all. In BC, he doesn't need to oppose the pipeline outright. He and the NDP just have to support several strong conditions that makes the pipeline viable and safe for the residents of BC including the First Nations.

In Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, Mulcair needs to demonstrate that he is an economic manager. That means supporting new hi-tech development and manufacturing. It means that he can demonstrate a calmness and confidence so that he can lead the country as our next prime minister. So far, he seems to be performing well on this front.