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“Orange Surge” is no tsunami

April 25th, 2011 · andrea

By Geoffrey Stevens

With seven days left until the election, let’s see if we can factor in a little perspective and common sense.

Start with the New Democratic Party. Its “orange surge” of recent days – leading to fevered speculation that it would supplant the Bloc Quebecois as number one in Quebec and the Liberals as number two in Ottawa – has been the most arresting development in an otherwise listless election campaign.

Although the orange surge does not look like a tsunami, it has excited the news media, alarmed the other parties, and fuelled a new round of attack ads, this time aimed at Jack Layton and his followers. It has even forced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to vary his standard Teleprompter speech to warn Canadians that the Coalition of Evil would be even more evil if it were led by Raging Socialists instead of Grasping Grits. Canadians could wake up on May 3 to find Layton in bed at 24 Sussex – and how would the country survive that?

Perspective suggests we have been there before, in the 1980s when Ed Broadbent was the most popular national leader. Although the great breakthrough did not occur, Broadbent did win 43 seats in the 1988 election. Those 43 seats remain the NDP’s high-water mark. (It is worth noting that in the next election, in 1993, when the vote split very differently, the NDP was reduced to nine seats.)

In the most recent election, in 2008, they took 37 seats. In this campaign, Layton seems to have connected personally with Canadians in a way that neither Harper nor Michael Ignatieff has been able to. Common sense would suggest the NDP will equal or surpass its 2008 total, but not by enough to capture 24 Sussex or Stornoway, the residence of the leader of the opposition.

What we don’t know, and can’t know, is how many of the “loose fish” who have swum to the NDP in recent days are converts and how many are treading water until they decide where best to place their strategic ballot to block a Harper majority.

Common sense also suggests the Liberals are not about to collapse the way they did in 1984 when they won only 40 seats. In Ignatieff, they have a leader who is stronger, more effective and more popular than his predecessor, Stéphane Dion. The party is better organized, more cohesive, and seems to be adequately financed. The prospect of a Conservative majority has mobilized Liberal troops, bringing out supporters who stayed home last time.

The Conservatives seem impervious to the campaigns raging around them. Their candidates sound like mini-Steves, as they faithfully recite his mantra. Take credit for the economic recovery. Blame the opposition for forcing an unnecessary election. Attack his enemies for trying to usurp power. Warn of the peril the country’s economy and, indeed, its unity would face if Canadians fail to elect a stable majority Conservative government.

There is no evidence that the Harper message or the party’s attack ads are getting through to large numbers of voters, aside from Tory core supporters. That’s why the Conservative numbers have barely budged since the election call. They went into the campaign just shy of a majority (155 seats), and they are still there, according to most polls.

Sixty per cent of Canadians may not want Stephen Harper as prime minister. The question is, will they do something about it?

My instinct is they will not. But instinct and common sense go only so far. Who would have thought that a lightly regarded, unilingual Prairie orator by the name of John Diefenbaker would win 208 seats in 1958, including 50 in Quebec where the Conservatives had previously had no presence at all? More recently, the Tories went into the 1993 election with a majority government. They emerged with just two seats in all of Canada.

The electorate seldom moves en masse. When it does, no one can gauge how far it will go.

(published April 25, 2011 in Waterloo Region Record and Guelph Mercury)

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sean // May 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    This is an amazing video from the NDP rally last night! Please repost!

  • 2 James // Apr 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Indeed, what else would you expect from a former managing editor at The Globe and Mail? NDP, kind of good. Liberals, can’t do no wrong. Conservatives? Robotic fools who simply repeat the same thing over and over again. Of course, Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff have yet to do that over the course of the campaign.

  • 3 Frank // Apr 29, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I think the more that the NDP stays in the spotlight the less people are likely to vote their way. Many people have either forgoten or were not aware that Jack and his wife Olivia were caught living in subsidized housing in vancouver and then again in Toronto. Olivia was seen backing OCAP in Toronto when the group was seen ripping up cobblestones and throwing them at police. She has always been anti-police. There are strong rumors in Toronto that bribe money (if it went to her) was redirected to Jacks Federal campaign in return for her votes on Toronto council. Jack is against privatizing health care but he visits a private clinic north of Toronto. Face it Jack comes across as a nice guy but is he really capable of running our country? He could never be Mayor of Toronto and he knows it, thats why he never ran but he now thinks he can run Canada. We can thank our lucky souls that the NDP peaked last Monday and not the next as more voters are realizing what could be a very tragic result if the NDP even came second. The liberals will get rid of Iggy and replace him with Bob Rae and then form a coalition govt with Jack Layton to overthrow a minority conservative govt. We all saw the results of a Bob Rae provincial govt in the first half of the 90s in Ontario. Talk about a dictatorship. Im sure that Rae is licking his chops right now at the possible prospects of the NDP coming second.

  • 4 Victor // Apr 29, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Quite a disappointing article. I agree with Ryan’s assessment. I came here looking for news and analysis and got this instead. No thanks.

  • 5 Alex Ferentzy // Apr 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I think its time to start to admit that the NDP may win the election outright, or at least in popular vote, if not seats. Downplaying what is happening neglects that the NDP has softened its stance and people really like Jack Layton.

  • 6 Bill Stewart // Apr 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I think most pollsters are now in agreement that we are indeed in uncharted territory and this is not analogous to the Broadbent campaign.

    EKOS, of course, has a very different analysis, at least worth reading.

    This could signal a seismic shift.

  • 7 david // Apr 26, 2011 at 9:29 am

    May I suggest that the NDP surge, though widely spread (with the possible exception of Ontario), is very thinly spread, and will not result in many, if any, additional seats: perhaps one in Quebec, another one out west somewhere (Edmonton again?) and one in Ontario. The EKOS poll is badly out of whack and not for the first time, and may safely be ignored (it’s the 20th in the “19 out of 20″ reliability assessment quoted for most polls of this nature). I think it’s safe to assume (if it’s ever safe to assume) that the Bloc will still win more seats in Quebec than
    the NDP nationally.

  • 8 Barry // Apr 25, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Nobody knows for sure how the election will turn out, but as an NDP supporter who remembers the Broadbent years, I can tell you that there is far more momentum this time and more reasons for NDP supporters to be optimistic. With less than a week to go, the advance polls having closed, the Liberals in freefall, Gilles Duceppe now campaigning a full 6 hours a day, Jack Layton smiling and laughing as he thoughfully answers questions, and not only riding high in the polls as first choice, but the second choice of a majority of Canadians the question may well be, “How much higher might the wave rise before it crests.

  • 9 Ryan // Apr 25, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    very poorly written article with extreme bias

  • 10 Mike // Apr 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    “There is no evidence that the Harper message or the party’s attack ads are getting through to large numbers of voters, aside from Tory core supporters.”

    So 40% of the country is in the category “core supporters”, get real.