When NDP leader Ed Broadbent stepped down from the stage after the televised debate on women’s issues last week, his smile said it all: for the third time in the federal election campaign Broadbent had done well in a face-to-face encounter with Prime Minister John Turner and Tory leader Brian Mulroney. But Broadbent’s performance was only the latest lift for a party that has staged a political comeback since the campaign began. Last spring polls indicated that the party might lose most of its 31 seats if an election were called, and would slip below the 12 seats it needed to retain major party status in the House of Commons. But last week’s Gallup poll indicated major gains for the NDP: the party now stands at 18 per cent, up seven per cent since the previous survey six weeks ago. Among the possible reasons for the rise were Broadbent’s care in stressing how mainstream his positions are and the party’s attempt to portray itself as the small band that will keep the Liberals and Tories honest.
At the same time, Turner’s errors, disorganization in the Liberal ranks and the NDP’S strong early stand on women’s issues and a nuclear arms freeze have all aided the party’s revival and convinced
campaign workers that the “ordinary people” strategy is working. Said NDP national campaign manager Gerald Caplan: “Everyone knew we could not win a government. But our surveys showed us we had a role in keeping the other guys honest. So we have not talked about implementing legislation or introducing programs. Instead, the role of the NDP is to have our ideas stolen.” Indeed, Broadbent almost appeared to enjoy accusing the other two leaders of taking the NDP position on youth unemployment during last week’s debate. He also insists that the NDP forced Turner and Mulroney to support tax reform. Declared Broadbent: “I have attempted to stick to the issues and say how much they would cost.”
Caplan is convinced that Broadbent’s strong performance as the veteran among the three leaders and the favorable response he gets from women have not only reassured traditional NDP voters, but have also won new support for the party. The NDP is particularly interested in attracting the support of young women and middle-income men between the ages of 21 and 45. Michael Morgan, a Vancouver advertising executive who is producing the party’s $1million TV advertising campaign, argues
that the party’s growing appeal to those two groups largely accounts for the rise in NDP popularity since the campaign began.
At the same time, the NDP has played down its ties to organized labor. Said Dennis McDermott, president of the two-million-member Canadian Labour Congress(CLC):“I am not speechifying in this campaign. We are playing a low-key role and concentrating on our own people.” Added Robert Jackson, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa: “It was absolutely the right strategy because there is no support in Canada for radical socialist options.” But the party still depends on trade-union support: in 42 ridings across the country, scores of volunteers telephone their fellow unionists each evening to relay the NDP’S ordinary-Canadians message. The CLC estimates that the phone campaign will reach 100,000 union members. For his part, former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis suggested that a strong labor turnoutcould produce five additional NDP victories in Ontario ridings.
Defying conventional wisdom, familiar, baggy-eyed Broadbent emerged as the most effective performer in a campaign that the Liberals and Conservatives had hoped to win by emphasizing their fresh, new leaders. With Turner entangled in controversies over bumpatting and patronage and Mulroney challenged to spell out the costs of his promises, Broadbent appeared before the establishment audience of Vancouver’s Canadian Club at the end of July and demanded a 20-per-cent tax on the incomes of those earning $50,000 or more. Last week he drew friendly crowds as he strolled through a farmer’s market in Toronto munching an apple and calmly seeking support, and later he
flew to Yellowknife to campaign with the NDP’S candidates in the North. Said Lynn McDonald, the incumbent NDP candidate in Toronto’s BroadviewGreenwood riding: “People at the door say they like Broadbent and are dissatisfied with the other two leaders.”
But even with a rise in party fortunes and Broadbent’s successful tours, few New Democrats match their leader’s
predictions of success on election day. In London, Ont., last week he declared: “We are not only going to hold the seats that we have, we are going to win more. I see movement right across the country.” In fact, in many of the party’s 25 Western seats, NDP candidates are too busy trying to hold on to contemplate any national revival.
In one case, in Winnipeg-St. James, the NDP won the riding by only 438 votes in 1980 and newcomer Lissa Donner, director of the Manitoba Federation of Labour Occupational Health Centres, is locked in a close race with Diana Ryback, the Liberal party’s provincial president. Donner replaced Cyril Keeper, who is seeking a seat in nearby Winnipeg North Centre, and is depending on her familiarity with local issues, not Broadbent’s coattails, to draw her into office. And in Toronto Lynn McDonald is too busy fighting against former Toronto Sun editor Peter Worthington, a Conservative, to hold Broadview-Greenwood to worry about polls. Declared McDonald: “It is a phony issue. If no one had ever declared the death, no one would have to declare the resurrection.” As a result, despite a successful campaign and an encouraging rise in the polls, the NDP may do nothing more than suffer fewer losses than originally expected. -ANN WALMSLEY in Toronto, with correspondents ’ reports.
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