Since public opinion polls in December showed that the NDP’s surge in popularity was subsiding, members of the two other federal parties have been unable to conceal their relief. Liberal House Leader Herb Gray, for one, observed with satisfaction after Christmas that “the air is going out of the NDP balloon.” But while the New Democrats have fallen from their summer peak of 41 per cent in a July Gallup poll, they were still riding at a comfortable 30 per cent in year-end surveys. That is 19 points higher than in June, 1984, when the party bottomed out at 11 per cent. The NDP then recovered to get 19 per cent of the popular vote and 30 House of Commons
seats in the election on Sept. 4,1984.
Many strategists in all three parties predict that the next campaign will be a genuine three-way race. NDP planners are gearing up for the campaign of their lives. From their modern, new sixth-floor headquarters in an Ottawa office tower, party officials are continuing a sophisticated fund-raising push, using computer-targetted direct mail while preparing 17 detailed manuals for election workers. Veteran strategist William Knight, who has been an MP and principal secretary to both former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney and federal NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, has taken over the key post of federal party secretary. Declared party communications director Julie Mason: “We did better than we thought, earlier than we thought, but we’re not concerned that things have dropped a little.”
But the NDP faces some serious
challenges in the run up to the next election, expected late this year or in 1989. One problem is disagreement between the party’s federal and Quebec wings over last year’s Meech Lake constitutional accord, which the federal party supports and members of the Quebec wing oppose. Another problem is perennial organizational weakness in Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and Alberta. As well, the party must construct an election platform without appearing to betray some long-standing elements in NDP policy, including withdrawal from NATO. One possible solution being examined by party strategists is a platform presented only after the election campaign begins that would include “priorities” for a first mandate and exclude many contentious policies.
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