Poll by poll, the results trickled in, the first returns greeted by little ripples of applause. But as the trend continued, excitement in Whitehorse’s steamy Yukon Indian Centre swelled. By the end of the evening, when the final vote tallies were announced, the noise was deafening. After nearly three decades the New Democratic Party had ended a Conservative stranglehold on the Yukon, a federal riding that encompasses the entire territory. The 200 celebrants, bedding down their children in an adjacent day care centre, ate cold cuts, played Madonna records and danced the night away. But the Yukoners were celebrating more than just the victory of NDP candidate Audrey McLaughlin. In St. John’s, Nfld., and Hamilton, Ont., the party had won two other federal byelections on July 20.
Suddenly, even the prospect of an NDP government in Ottawa seemed possible. Exclaimed Whitehorse campaign worker René Carlson:
“The message to Brian Mulroney is ‘pack your bags .’ ”
Popular: The NDP’S three byelection victories last week confirmed its standing as the country’s most popular party. The latest Gallup poll, conducted July 8-11, showed that 41 per cent of decided voters favor the NDP, compared with 35 per cent for the Liberals and only 23 per cent for the governing Conservatives. Not since the NDP was founded in 1961—the modern political child of the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF)—has it topped the polls. Now, with a federal election less than two years away, the party is thinking for the first time about how it would actually govern the country. Said Robin Sears, the party’s former federal secretary: “We have to start believing the polls and getting prepared for a different role.”
There was evidence last week that both the Liberals and the Tories were also beginning to believe the polls. Two days after the byelections, Liberal Leader John Turner revamped his election planning committee (page 16). Spokesmen for the unpopular Tories, saddled with a series of scandals and embarrassing miscues, vowed to redouble their efforts to govern more effectively. Said Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of the byelection results: “Clearly, the people in those constituencies are telling us that Canadians want us to perform better as a government.”
Shift: NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, the former academic who tops the polls as the country’s most popular politician,
read even more into the byelection results. He claimed that they signalled a fundamental shift away from the “oldline parties” to his own. Indeed, many observers say that much of the NDP’S success in the past few months is due to the personality and skills of the 51year-old, cigar-smoking man who has led the party since 1975 (page 12). Deliberate changes to his carefully cultivated public image have also helped. Broadbent’s rhetoric is less shrill, his temper is less evident, and he has
mothballed his baggy corduroys for trim navy-blue suits. Even his aides are more protective and diligently try to prevent photographers from shooting Broadbent smoking his beloved Cuban cigars. Cuban President Fidel Castro personally gave him some during a visit to Havana in 1981, and Broadbent, flouting American law against the import of Cuban products, carried them with him into Miami. Cigars, his aides feel, make Broadbent look too much like a corporate executive and might offend the antismoking lobby.
The party itself is already doing detailed planning for the next election. In recent weeks it has been reviewing its policy platform, wooing a phalanx of star candidates, commissioning public opinion polls, moving into larger headquarters and pouring unprecedented resources into Quebec, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces, regions that have traditionally shunned NDP candidates. And the party will fight the next campaign with a bigger treasury —a projected budget of $6 million, compared to less than $3 million in 1984.
Doubt: Most independent political observers still doubt that the New Democrats can form a government in the fore§ seeable future—and are warning the party not _ to be too cocky. They 5 note that governments normally fare badly at the polls between elections and that the Liberals’ internal problems could be temporary. As a result, party support could plummet in the coming months if the other parties solve their own problems. “The NDP should be very careful about judging the nature of the support they are getting,” said Donald Blake, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia. “They should not assume this means wholehearted endorsement of their policies.”
Nevertheless, some Liberals and
Conservatives seem to consider the NDP a real threat. They increasingly portray New Democrats as irresponsible socialists determined to withdraw Canada from NATO and wreck the economy by nationalizing corporations. Asked about the attacks, Broadbent told Maclean's last week, “I go between thinking they are silly to being annoyed.” Broadbent, interviewed in his spacious sixth-floor Parliament Hill office, said that the country has matured to the point that principles once considered radical are now part of every major party’s platform. He noted that Mulroney campaigned on themes simi-
lar to those of the NDP: tax reform and maintaining the social welfare system.
Red-baiting is not new to the NDP. The party’s forerunner, the CCF, briefly led the national polls in 1943. The business community, backed by some politicians and much of the news media, panicked and unleashed a massive campaign that portrayed the CCF as everything from Nazi to communist. The party’s support plunged.
Collusion: This time NDP strategists seem more concerned about collusion among the other parties than by businessmen. One scenario 1 being discussed within 5 senior NDP circles envisages the party winning
the most seats—but not a majority—in the next election. Liberals and Conservatives, the theory goes, would then form a coalition government to keep the New Democrats out of office. Broadbent himself said he doubted that the other parties would join forces. But he would like to see Canadian politics evolve toward a two-party system, one on the right and the other on the left. Said Broadbent: “Ultimately, that would be desirable for Canada.”
Businessmen have certainly been more restrained in recent months in criticizing the socialists than they were in 1943. But leading party members say that could change if the NDP remains high in the polls at election time. The party’s social-democratic orientation and its ties with big labor still rankle the business community. Said John Emmerson, president of EPC
Industries Ltd., a plastics manufacturer in Saint John, N.B.: “The average man or woman might believe the NDP has changed—but business still looks at the NDP the way they are: socialists.”
Partly to counter such fears, the party is working hard to attract experienced, high-profile candidates to run in the next federal election. Nominations for candidates have been put on hold until next February in order to give the party more time to woo star candidates, the politicians it will portray as potential cabinet material. The search for household names is important because no one in Broadbent’s caucus has ever served in a federal or provincial cabinet. His MPs are largely former academics and public servants with little administrative or business experience. And the extreme leftward bent and unpredictable nature of some MPs—such as Svend Robinson, John Rodriguez and Daniel Heap—has prompted many observers to question their suitability as future ministers.
Dream: The party’s dream slate for the next campaign includes former premiers David Barrett of B.C., Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan and Ed Schreyer of Manitoba. Another prize catch would be Stephen Lewis, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. But so far only Barrett has agreed to run. Other possibilities include Roy Romanow, former Saskatchewan attorney general; David Stupich, the B.C. NDP finance critic, and the current Manitoba premier, Howard Pawley.
The search for star candidates is particularly crucial in Quebec, where the party has never elected an MP. Michel Agnaieff, the party’s associate president responsible for Quebec, said that he has 120 people willing to run in the province’s 75 federal ridings.
Among the names he hopes to begin announcing in September are Sylvain Simard, a former Parti Québécois vice-president; feminist environmental lawyer Noelle-Dominique Willems; and symphony conductor Pierre Hétu.
The NDP’s ambitious intention to run a full-scale campaign in all regions of the country underlines how far Canada’s social-democrats have come since their party’s origins in the depths of the Great Depression more than 50 years ago. The CCF was founded in
Regina in 1933—largely by radical Protestant evangelists and Prairie populists. The party espoused more generous social welfare programs, increased state ownership of industries and a more independent foreign policy.
While the CCF regularly sent a handful of MPs to Ottawa, it never came close to winning a federal election. Its chief electoral success was in Saskatchewan, where Tommy Douglas led
the party to power in 1944 and remained premier until 1961. That year the federal party underwent a complete reorganization: it became the NDP and chose Douglas, a bantam-sized Baptist preacher, as its first leader.
But neither Douglas nor David Lewis, his successor, was able even to form the official opposition, nor to raise the party’s vote above 19.8 per cent— achieved in the February, 1980, federal election. Still, the party did have considerable policy influence—especially on minority governments— pushing federal Liberal administrations into establishing more generous pension policies, the national medicare program and Crown corporations such as PetroCanada.
Broadbent, who bez came leader in 1975, 3 maintained the pattern through three elections that left the NDP relegated to third spot. It was not until after the 1984 election, when the Conservatives reduced the previous Liberal government to a mere 40 seats, that he began to shift gears. Electing 30 MPs, the NDP vowed to act as the “real opposition.” By mid-1985 the public’s honeymoon with the Tories was over, and they began to slip in the polls. While the Liberals seesawed in public popularity, the NDP began its steady climb to first place.
Serious: Suddenly, New Democrats began to realize that maybe—just maybe—the impossible was possible. Desmond Morton, author, historian and former member of the party’s federal council, said that he has had “mixed results” for years trying to convince New Democrats that they should seriously prepare themselves for governing. “Now they’re serious about it,” said Morton. “One of their changes is that they want to look ministerial.”
> Broadbent certainly wants I to give the impression of be5 ing a tough leader. When a handful of NDP members
heckled President Ronald
Reagan during a speech to Parliament last April, Broadbent was openly critical. His MPs, he said, had gone too far. Broadbent has also lectured his caucus on the dangers of feuding over
policy. He knows that as the party climbs in the polls, the media will pay closer attention to any sign of internal dissent.
Still, Broadbent’s attempts to generate a new image for the party have met opposition. Before 1984 the NDP usually used the House of Commons to promote its own policies. But since the last election New Democrat MPs have focused more on issues guaranteed to give them better play in the news media. One MP complained privately that “the front page of The Globe and Mail, ” rather than pressing social concerns, determines what issues the party will raise in the Commons.
Softening: Some New Democrats and independent observers say that the party’s increased popularity is linked to a deliberate softening of some controversial policy issues. Said Philippe Doucet, political scientist at the University of Moncton: “They’ve watered down their socialist policies.” Broadbent denies the charge—but admits that some policies need “updating” because of changing social and economic conditions. Thus, the party
still calls for improved pensions and child care programs, but also expresses concern about the budget deficit. The result, says political scientist Agar Adamson of Acadia University in
Wolfville, N.S., is that the new NDP is really “the yuppie party,” wooing the middle class even more than the working class.
As the NDP climbs in the polls, Broadbent admits that he is finally starting to think about life some day as prime minister. In the Maclean's interview, he claimed that he used to avoid thinking about such “fantasies.” But if present trends continue, he maintained, the NDP eventually will form a government.
Danced: The possibility of John Edward Broadbent one day becoming the Right Honorable Prime Minister certainly dazzled the Yukoners as they danced the night away last week. Audrey McLaughlin was quick to give Broadbent considerable credit for her election victory. Said the MP-elect: “When people say they trust Ed Broadbent, they really do.” The remaining challenge for Broadbent and the NDP is to translate that trust into power.
PAUL GESSELL with MARC CLARK in Ottawa and correspondents’ reports
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.