What’s behind the NDP surge?

Jut a couple of weeks ago, this election nobody apparently wanted seemed destined to be an either/or conclusion: either Stephen Harper gets his majority, or not.

But strange things have been happening, and nothing more strange than the New Democrats and their glad-handing, used-car-salesman leader Jack Layton and his impossible promises pulling ahead of the Liberals and their leader, Michael Ignatieff. (I’ll bet the Tories are having second thoughts about their apparently successful smear campaign against Ignatieff now.)

Could it be, excited pundits are punditing, that we could have a Jack Layton led coalition government? Or even — gasp! — a New Democrat government?

Uh, no. There will not be an NDP national government in Canada, and never will be, because I’m not prepared to leave the country quite yet. And I have a hunch that the New Democrats are being set up for a bit of a comedown on election night.

The most recent poll put the NDP at an unheard of 30 per cent  nationally. Where does all this support come from?

Well, it’s primarily from Quebec, where as of the Harris-Decima poll Friday, the NDP was at an astonishing 42 per cent, 20 points ahead of the Bloc Quebecois. This is good news if it holds. It shows that the Quebec voter might just have grown exhausted with the BQ’s act, and it looking for something new. The Liberals have never recuperated in Quebec since the sponsorship scandal, and the Tories haven’t been strong in Quebec since Brian Mulroney. The option, for the disaffected Quebec voter, appears to be the NDP. Only in Quebec would I cheer that development.

But the backlash has begun. Stories are appearing about Quebec NDP candidates who were so certain of defeat, that they took holidays during the campaign. One candidate in an almost entirely French-speaking riding doesn’t even speak French! In the dying days of the campaign, more and more of these stories will begin to emerge, threatening the NDP revival.

But let’s look further in the so-called NDP surge. In Ontario, where elections are decided, the NDP is still a distant third. The Liberals, in the Friday poll, are the top party, followed by the Conservatives. Could it be that Ontario voters remember what it was like to have an NDP government, and are rallying behind the Liberals?

The Prairies are, with a couple of isolated cases, a lost cause for the NDP. In BC, they’re in second, but well behind the Tories.

So the NDP ‘surge’ is mostly in Quebec. Yes, they’ll pick up seats, but mostly at the expense of the BQ. I think, however, that when the unsuitability of NDP candidates becomes clearer, their support will soften.

Then there’s the fading Liberal vote. Ignatieff has not engaged the population, and the Liberals have run a miserable campaign, trying to out-flank the NDP on the left, giving the NDP a boost. I think a lot of Canadians are saying, ‘If I’m going to vote for a left-leaning party, might as well go with the real deal.’ But one thing the polls will do is galvanize the existing Liberal vote. They’re scared, and the thought of becoming Canada’s third place party will get soft or lazy Liberal voters out in droves to prevent a historic humiliation.

As for me, I don’t now which is worse. Jack Layton and the NDP having any kind of power in Ottawa, or Stephen Harper getting a majority. It’s like having your choice of execution methods — lethal injection or the chair.

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