Finally, we come to Canada's perennial third-party (fourth in terms of parliamentary support!), the New Democrats, in my 2010 round-up. The NDP have had a series of small crises this year, and have been shown vulnerable to certain movements by the Liberals and the Conservatives which puts the 36-member strong caucus between a rock and a hard place half the time. But, they still seem to come out strong at the end of 2010, a testament to the party's ability to weather storms.
The NDP has had a very stable support base throughout the year, with only one notable dip during the LGR vote which nearly went so wrong for them. According to 308.com, since 2010 began, they've been stuck between 15-17%, though really between 16-17%. Even during the 2009 dip for the Liberals, the NDP didn't jump above 17%, though they did go from being mired at 15% to 17%. One bright spot for the NDP has been their increase in Quebec, where, depending on who you believe, they could be anywhere from 10% to 21% of the vote in the province. What is clear is that they now have a reliable base of support in the province. But in the reading of any polls this year, you'll be sure to note the large dip the NDP received in September of this year, during the LGR vote, which split the NDP's caucus. In Ontario alone they managed to lose about 3% of their support in September, before they clawed themselves back up at the end of 2010. One major concern for the NDP has been the eradication of their party in Atlantic Canada, where since 2009, they've gone from a high of 29% and nearly tied with the Liberals, to just 18% and behind them by over 20%.
One major sticking point for the NDP this year was the by-elections, which saw them go from 22% of the vote in all three ridings, to just over 15%, losing a long-time stronghold in the process, and barely registering in Vaughan. They were outorganized in Winnipeg North, which saw a very good candidate (local activist Kevin Chief) end up losing by 5% to Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux, a career politician. In Vaughan, there were rumours that the NDP gave up and told people to vote Green, and in the end they ended up with only 1.7% of the vote. Not a good sign in an Ontario riding. The only bright spot was Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, where the NDP increased their vote and cemented themselves as the opposition there, though they still lost by over 30% to the Conservatives.
The NDP, according to themselves, have had a good legislative year, but it isn't really so. In 2009, they kept the Harper government alive, and got very little in return for it; this year, they've gotten nothing. The long-gun registry vote nearly gave the party the distinction of being the ones to kill the registry, something they avoided when several party members swallowed their own pride and voted the party line. Layton's decision not to whip the vote may be good in hindsight, but at the time, there's no doubt that it was foolish. Had the vote not gone the way it did, the NDP would have been the recipient of a good "shellacking," mostly as the Liberals pressed hard against them. The fact they still did see a big drop in support even though the registry was saved means they were simply grazed by the bullet, instead of hit by it.
In terms of leadership, Jack Layton is usually on the upswing, unless of course you listen to Nanos Research, which pins his likeliness to become Prime Minister the same as Michael Ignatieff's. But Layton receives otherwise good marks as an in-touch, compassionate, and open leader. But Layton's own ability to garner thumbs-up because of himself fails to translate into more votes for his party, as they are mired behind the Liberals, unable to take advantage of their weakness in current times. Indeed, one has to remember that back in the 1980's, the NDP were regularly outpolling the Liberals during one of the lowest points in the party's history; since 2006, not once has the NDP surpassed the Liberals in the polls, and only among what most consider "rogue polls" do they ever come close. It seems that despite Layton's popularity, the NDP aren't in any position to reap the benefits.
Which pretty much sums up the issues for the NDP - a lack of connection between their leader's popularity, and their own. The Dippers have an increasingly stuck position, mired basically between 15% to 18%. That isn't enough to win government, Official Opposition, or even to surpass the Bloc Quebecois in the seat count. Along with the organizational hiccups that were this year's by-elections, the outlook is, frankly, grim. With an ineffective ground game and their leader as the main reason why they're as high as they are, there isn't far they can go. Until they show they can match the Liberals in terms of their organization, fundraising, and effectiveness as an Opposition party, they'll be stuck as the third party. The question for 2011, though, is can they turn things around and finally come up from the left and realign Canadian politics in their favour? Or now that the Liberals have general stability now, did the Dippers squander their chance in 2008?