As the National Post's Michael Den Tandt reminded us this week, "Tom Mulcair may be the next prime minister" of Canada.
A new EKOS poll that has the NDP ahead for the very first time since Mulcair became its leader. The once neglected party is on top at 29.6 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 28.1 per cent and Liberals, last, at 26.1 per cent. To the NDP, that has almost never been competitive in a national political poll; this is uncharted territory for them. Only during the Ed Broadbent era has the party enjoyed such high numbers.
What is propelling it to the front of the pack?
It is simple. The party and its leader have carved out an alternative vision for itself against the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. The NDP clearly has become the desired destination to those looking for an alternative government in the upcoming federal election. The Liberals, under Justin Trudeau, look confused, uninspiring and have become Harper-lite. To the average electorate, it has become a challenge to distinguish it from the decade old Conservative government. As the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson recently noted: "Under Mr. Trudeau's leadership, the Liberals on most major files have become virtually indistinguishable from Stephen Harper's Conservatives."
The Liberal party under Trudeau is now in support of the Conservatives on a slew of important public policies. From taxes, the Keystone XL pipeline and Bill C-51 and human rights, the Conservatives and the Liberals are separated by name only. Trudeau's support of Bill C-51 alone, denies the Liberals right to be the champion of the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- its signature.
The party has also diminished itself as it welcomed one-time controversial Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair, to its ranks as a star candidate from Scarborough. How could the party, that has a tradition of supporting human rights, welcome anyone whose defining public legacy is being the architect of a racial profiling policy in Toronto? Remember, Bill Blair, will not be what the unorthodox Tom Wappel was to Jean Chrétien's Liberals and will not be relegated to the backbenches should the Grits form the next government.
In the absence of a clear-cut vision from the Liberals, the NDP has become the reasonable alternative. The party is now on record voting against Bill C-51 and voicing a strong opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Mulcair has advocated for a national child care policy worth $8 billion and proposed targeted tax cuts for families.
On foreign aid, the party has proposed to "set a multi-year timetable for Canada to meet the 0.7 per cent ODA/GNI goal over the next decade", according to Hélène Laverdière, the NDP's Official Opposition Critic for International Cooperation. Toronto area NDPers have even spoken out against the made-in-Toronto carding policy to boot.
Like his predecessor, the late Jack Layton, who was once a champion of the working class, and once advocated for the end of unfair ATM machine charges, Mulcair is also championing bread and butter issues such as the need to raise the national minimum wage to $15/ hour.
Canadians can either agree or disagree with Mulcair and the NDP, but they know what they stand for. They also know what the Conservatives stand for. Nobody seems to know what the Liberals stand for.
A short-while ago, the Liberals under Trudeau were favored to win the next government. They were seen as the agent-of-change and different than the status quo. Trudeau then failed to capture the imagination of the electorate and neglected to define his vision and explain why Canadians should elect him as Prime Minister. To be frank, he became the imitation of the status quo and suddenly the NDP become a strong option for the average electorate.
At the end, we should never forget the fact the upcoming federal election is a clear referendum on the Stephen Harper decade. Should we endorse or reject his Canada? That is essentially why it is becoming a clear choice between Stephen Harper or Thomas Mulcair.
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