THE BLOG

The Road Ahead For The NDP In 2016

01/07/2016 02:56 EST | Updated 01/07/2017 05:12 EST
GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaks at a campaign rally in London, Ontario October 4, 2015. New polling showed the former frontrunner in Canada's legislative elections could finish third over its opposition to a popular niqab ban, as political leaders squared off in a final debate October 2. The race is still too close to call, with the rivals sparring over taxes, trade negotiations, the Syrian refugee crisis, air strikes against the Islamic State group, and upcoming Paris climate talks.Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats jumped into the lead at the start of the race in July and held it through most of the campaign. AFP PHOTO/GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

This will prove an interesting year for the NDP as they transition from Official Opposition status to third party status. They will be functioning with fewer MPs, fewer staff, and fewer resources. Invariably, many of your best staff leave after a defeat and seek new challenges. It is not a fun place to be. Add in the quiet, behind the scenes finger pointing that invariably follows a defeat such as theirs, and anything can happen.

Politics comes down to a blood sport where what matters is winning. Mulcair had them right in the sweet spot until the wheels came off the bus. Internally (caucus and defeated MPs) and externally (with volunteers and supporters), the blame game will be in full swing, even if it is only done behind closed doors.

The NDP caucus and the party rank and file have to decide at their upcoming convention (leadership review included) if they want Mulcair in command four years from now? Will a threshold of 50+1 be that difficult a threshold to reach to force a leadership vote when one considers the level of disappointment that arises from almost being the government only to fall to a distant third place finish?

Having been a member of Jean Charest's government, Mulcair understands full well what happens when the finger of blame points at the leader and caucus members think they could have done a better job, especially when they prefer that the leader depart. Does he want to spend not only the next few months, but the next four years looking over his shoulder?

Part of the problem facing the NDP is that they don't know who the next Conservative leader will be. Mulcair is in his sixties, and depending on what the Conservatives do, we could be facing a generational change in politics.

How does Mulcair keep his job? Mulcair will have to shine in Question Period while crossing the country to network and reassure party supporters. This alone is tiring and a major distraction for any leader.

Will his hard adversarial style of questioning work in our new "Sunny Ways" Parliament? It probably can, as we have seen how quickly the Liberals forgot some of their own promises about having a more collegial House of Commons. Question Period is designed to be adversarial, and if politely asking for answers doesn't get answers, the rhetoric quickly ramps up.

Mulcair still has lots of opportunity to take on Trudeau in QP, providing of course that the NDP doesn't allow the Trudeau team to bring in a Westminster style Prime Minister's question period, which is held just one day a week. If that happens and Mulcair no longer has the daily "leaders round" to grill Trudeau face to face, then much of his impact will be lost.

The NDP will also be faced with the task of redefining themselves. The Trudeau Liberals have successfully moved into much of the space traditionally occupied by the NDP. Somehow the NDP have to be able to show how they are different from the Liberals. Just how are they planning to do this?

Mulcair's challenge will be to rebuild the parliamentary caucus into a formidable opposition party and reenergize it while at the same time not giving potential challengers too much freedom or too high a profile. It is a fine balancing act. I expect that we will see him in a lot of scrums as he tries to keep his profile as high as possible in the next few months.

Once the leadership review and convention is over, the NDP will have plenty of time to focus on policies and election preparation. In the meantime though, the leadership issue will be a major distraction for them, even if they try to tell us that it is all about "sunny ways" inside the NDP caucus and party.