Layton rides 'Orange wave,' NDP becomes Opposition
Published Tuesday, May 3, 2011 1:24AM EDT
The NDP completely crushed the Bloc Quebecois, picked up seats in Toronto, and became the Official Opposition Monday night, signalling a seismic change in Canadian politics.
Early Tuesday morning, the NDP were looking at more than 100 seats in the House of Commons, with up to 60 seats in Quebec.
NDP Leader Jack Layton faced a crowd of jubilant supporters in Toronto shortly after midnight.
"Canadians have elected a new generation of New Democrats MPs from every corner of the country," he said.
"My friends, for the first time in our history, Canadians have asked us to serve as the Official Opposition."
Layton said he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and offered congratulations, as well as his desire for a more "positive and respectful" Parliament.
"I've always favoured proposition, over opposition. But we will oppose when this government is off-track," he said. "I've told Mr. Harper I'd be very happy to work with his party, and every party, to achieve concrete results for families."
The Liberals and NDP had a combined popular vote that was significantly more than the Conservatives, which Layton seemed to acknowledge. Since many Conservatives were voted in by vote-splitting between the Liberals and New Democrats, there are bound to a many calls to "unite the left."
Layton said the Liberals fought for healthcare during the campaign and shared similar values as his party.
He also congratulated Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on winning her seat, which received a large cheer from the crowd.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe was among his party's casualties, losing his seat and announcing his resignation as party leader.
"Democracy has spoken and I respect its choice," Duceppe said Monday evening.
He said the NDP's victory was a federal party's last chance in Quebec.
After midnight, the Bloc Quebecois was looking at entering the House of Commons with a mere two to four seats, down from 48.
Going into Monday's election, the NDP had only voted two Quebec MPs into the House of Commons in its 50-year history and had never been the Official Opposition. Calling the NDP's breakthrough "historic" might be a bit of an understatement.
"This is surreal," Antonia Maioni, a professor of political science at McGill University, said Monday. "This was supposed to be the election that turned off Quebeckers, where there was apathy about federal politics, but ‘Jack Mania' has actually enlivened the debate."
The NDP has also knocked off many Liberal seats and has become the de facto party of Quebec.
In some respects, the NDP's broke through because no one saw it coming. Duceppe, up until a few weeks ago would refer to Layton as "my friend, Jack." The Conservatives just hammered away on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, which was effective in driving down the Grit vote, but off-target from their real competition.
That allowed Layton to run a "higher ground" campaign, promising the same things he's always promised -- more money for social programs and job creation.
"The NDP's policies aligned with that of a lot of Quebeckers, on things like the environment, foreign policy and social issues," pollster Nik Nanos said. "Jack Layton looked very different in terms of a positive message, compared to the Conservatives and the Liberals."
Of course, much of the NDP's success has to be credited directly to the personal popularity of Layton. Many Quebeckers were saying they were voting for "Jack" -- who has always been proud of his roots, born in Montreal and raised in Hudson, Que.
"He's always referred to here as ‘Our boy, Jack, a good guy,'" former Progressive Conservative prime Minister Brian Mulroney said from Montreal.
The NDP's polling numbers took off after the leader's debates in which Layton scolded both Harper and Ignatieff, the supposed frontrunners. While initially, no one declared Layton an outright winner of the debates, it was clear his performance resonated in the long-term.
Layton's folksy French and big personality was in stark contrast to his rivals, especially Duceppe, who many thought looked like he didn't want to be on the campaign trail.
Nanos said the Bloc Quebecois suffered immensely from voter fatigue.
"In the last number of elections, the BQ have had a referendum, something to grasp on to, to motivate their core, whether its crime or culture," Nanos said. "In this particular election, they just didn't have anything."
Maioni says that the NDP are a relatively new party for Quebec, especially for Francophones, and won on the protest vote.
"This is not just against the Bloc Quebecois, but against the Ottawa politics in general," she said. "Jack Layton's personality, combined with the newness of the party and the positive tone of his message, the anti-establishment tone, is something that many Quebeckers are waking up to."
NDP MP Thomas Mulcair, first elected in a 2007 byelection, will no longer be the party's only MP in the province. As the party's finance critic, he will see his profile raised on a national scale.
But joining Mulcair, a former provincial cabinet minister for the Liberals, is a large cast of virtual unknowns.
The NDP have a "a very young and eclectic caucus," Nanos said.