Hey Democrats: Don’t Pull an NDP -- Run as Democrats!

Thom plus logo Canada, if you haven’t heard, will soon have a new prime minister.

His name is Justin Trudeau, he’s 43-years-old, and his Liberal Party came out on top in Monday’s national elections, ending the Conservative Party’s nine-year-long stranglehold over Canadian politics.

No one saw this coming.

Back in August when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper first called for early elections, the Liberals were getting trounced in the polls by the historically much more left-wing New Democratic Party, or NDP.

At that time it really looked like the Liberals - Canada’s so-called “natural governing party” - were on the cusp of losing yet another election.

But then something weird happened.

As summer turned to fall, the NDP abandoned its progressive values and started moving to the right.

The most obvious policy shift involved the budget.

Even though everyone in Canada was sick and tired of the Conservative government’s austerity policies, the NDP made balancing the budget - AKA more austerity - a big part of its campaign platform.

The idea was to hit back against the right-wing smear that the NDP is bad with money, but as Joshua Ostroff points out in a piece for The Huffington Post, “After years of austerity measures, that rightward turn… felt to many like a betrayal of party values in search of a few votes.”

Meanwhile, as the NDP moved right, the historically “centrist” Liberals moved to the left. They started calling for more economic stimulus, higher taxes on the rich, and, you guessed it, legal marijuana.

Since Canada is a center-left nation, the pitch worked. On Election Day, the Liberals won 150 seats and a majority in parliament.

Obviously, America is not Canada.

Although we share a mother tongue and a mother country, we are two very different countries with two very different political systems.

But even so, there is a lesson here for American liberals if they care to listen.

And that’s the fact that they should never, ever, ever, tack to the right to win elections.

Doing so is a surefire way to actually lose elections, as Canada’s NDP found out the hard way on Monday.

American Democrats should know the feeling.

In last year’s midterms a good number of Democrats ran away from president Obama and his accomplishments and tried to pass themselves off as “Republican-lite.” Remember Allison Lundergan Grimes running ads on TV saying that she disagreed with Obama?

And what happened? They lost their elections and Republicans took over the Senate.

The frustrating part of all this was that when Democrats did run as Democrats last fall, they won. Senators Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Gary Peters of Michigan, for example, all ran as tried-and-true progressives and handily beat their Republican challengers.

This shouldn’t be that hard that to understand: Democrats win elections when they run as progressives.

Unfortunately, a lot of establishment Democrats still buy into the right-wing myth that America is a “center-right nation” when it’s anything but a center-right nation.

Like Canada, America is a center-left nation. In fact, a recent poll by the Progressive Change Institute, shows that Americans overwhelmingly agree with progressives like Bernie Sanders on key issues from education and healthcare to the economy.

Like Bernie, 75 percent of Americans support fair trade that “protects workers, the environment, and jobs.”

71 percent support giving all students access to a debt-free college education.

71 percent support a massive infrastructure spending program aimed at rebuilding our broken roads and bridges and putting people back to work.

70 percent support expanding Social Security.

59 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy so that millionaires pay the same amount in taxes as they did during the Reagan administration.

58 percent support breaking up the big banks.

55 percent support a financial transaction or Robin Hood tax.

51 percent support single payer healthcare, and so and so on.

Get the idea?

If Democrats were smart, they’d run on these policies.

But don’t hold your breath.

With triangulator-in-chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz still in charge of the DNC, Democrats are probably going to spend a few more election cycles running away from their own core values.

But if the rise of Bernie Sanders is any indication, the Democratic base is more than ready to take on the party elites for failing to stand up for real progressive values.

So let’s hope the Democratic Party wakes up and starts, you know, acting Democratic before it pulls an NDP-type unforced error and throws away another election.


Legend 7 years 32 weeks ago

Senator Udall lost in Colorado to a radical Tea Party candidate Cory Gardner. Cory ran constant ads that Udall had voted with Obama 99% of the time. First of all they are both Democrats and should vote the same. Udall never once said that is right and I voted this way for this reason. It was terrible to watch. No backbone whatsoever. Cory won and he was a do nothing congressman going into the election. Udall never attacked his do nothing record, Government shutdown etc.

dianhow 7 years 32 weeks ago

Dems are 100 X more supportive of what the majority of Americans want & believe in Better wages, pensions intact, fair tax laws, NO more Mid east wars, NO having fat cats run / control our country . TOP 5 % must pay their fair share of taxes, receive much fewer loopholes, subsides & corp tax cuts. Quality affordable education for our young is a must, that will lead to a much stronger economy & stable families. US must bring back Glass Steagle & Repeal Citizens United aka Billionaires United. Wealth must NOT determine how much power one wields in elections or passing gov't policies ! Thats UN American at its core . NO TPP until we the people knows whats in it !!

marriott79's picture
marriott79 7 years 32 weeks ago

Thom, your sentiment is right, but the pro-Liberal guests and callers you've had on your program aren't giving you the complete picture of what happened up here.

I live in Western Canada (Vancouver) in a very conservative riding, but I'm as progressive as you and Bernie Sanders. I voted NDP, but I'm still very happy that Trudeau won and we're rid of Harper.

Here's the thing, though; the Liberal Party has traditionally been a centrist, pro-business party. They would be best compared to DLC democrats like Hilary Clinton or Obama. The Liberal Party has had its share of scandals, and they haven't done a good job running the province of British Columbia. They've reduced certain health care services, increase fracking, sold off public assets to private interest groups, and we're now in a housing bubble where an entry-level home in Vanouver costs over $1M. I cannot speak on how the Liberals have performed in other provinces, but federally, in the 90s, they were involved in all kinds of scandals.

I don't want to come across as demonizing the Liberal, though. I do like what Trudeau is saying, and I hope he follows through on his campaign promises. I like what I'm hearing so far. His father kept us out of Vietnam, and the pressure from the US must have been immense. Just as there will be a lot of pressure on Justin to go along with the TPP and Keystone XL.

OK, the NDP didn't lose because they "proposed austerity." In fact, there seems to be a prevailing view that they're a bunch of crazy leftists who would destroy the country if they got into office, which is preposterous. Bernie is more progressive than most NDP candidates. In fact, the most progressive Canadian politician -- the most Bernie Sanders-like candidate we have -- is Elizabeth May of the Green Party. She's wonderful, but unfortunately Canada isn't ready for a real Bernie Sanders prime minister yet.

What happened here this week was a referendum, not a revolution. Harper was to the right of most Canadians and was causing irreperable harm to the citizens and our image in the world. Harper is every bit as right-wing and hawkish (and oil hungry) as George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

An advocacy group in Canada called LeadNow devised a strategy they termed "Vote Together" (aka "ABC" or "Anything But Conservative"), and they worked hard to get the message out. This strategy was to vote for whoever the nominee was who could beat the Conservative in each riding. In most cases this would be the Liberal candidate because they're a more established party. I would question the integrity of anyone who calls your program and leaves out the details of this huge movement.

The NDP, on the other hand, has a long history of rising to meteoric levels early in an election cycle and then crashing as they approach election day. This happened in this latest election, and it's happened many times in BC. They're also terrible at defending themselves and will waffle on issues when in office.

The NDP lose elections because they are terrible at messaging. They allow the other side to frame the debate and are unable to rally their base. I was on their mailing list and finally gave up. Unlike Bernie Sanders who gives regular updates and inspiring emails, the NDP would send out donation requests once or twice a day. Their website had little, if any, events for supporters to attend (unless you count black tie fundraising dinners). Social media and messaging from the individual candidates was virtually non-existent. When they finally did put on an online streaming event, they waited until 10pm the night before to announce it!

I voted NDP, but I really had no idea who my local candidate was or what they stood for. To give credit where it's due, our local Conservative MP has always send out monthly newsletters detailing the "progress" he and his party were making on behalf of Canadians. I disagree with everything he stands for, but it's an effort I've never seen from any of the other parties.

I wanted to respond because I've heard so much spin from all sides that I don't think people are getting an accurate picture. Canadians are slowly waking up, just like people in the US, Britain, and Australia after suffering from Reagan/Thatcher economics for the last 30+ years. Trudeau is the right man for the times we're in now, but as climate change becomes more problematic, we're going to eventually need a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth May who can stand up to big corporations and enact the kind of tough climate legislation necessary for the human race to survive.

wolfhowl 7 years 32 weeks ago

For the most part I agree with you Thom. However as an American living in Canada I disagree with your statement "nobody saw it coming". Harper had estranged the average Canadian long ago with his imperial attitude. Also Justin Treadeau ran a very good campaign, much like Bernie is in the US, focusing on issues and avoiding attacking opponents. Local sentiment here in rural Eastern Ontario was "anyone but Harper". Yeah, the NDP pretty much shot themselves in the foot, but many rural Canadians think like I do and are neither right, left or center, but address individual issues and individual candidates. I would most accurately describe myself as Liberatrian and have never belonged to either Democrat or Republican but have registered with the Alaskan Independence Party. I totally support Bernie and am offering even money he will be our next president if the billionaires don't shoot him first. I think he and Justin would work well together. The future will be better!!!

wolfhowl 7 years 32 weeks ago

I just wanted to say Sir that your comments are right on for the most part. Gave me more perspective into Canadian political processes, which I don't yet completely understand, being a US citizen living in Canada these last 13 years. As far as US politics, GO BERNIE!!! He's the best shot likely in my lifetime of really changing things for the betterment of people everywhere, not just the very rich. Thank the Great Spirit quite a few folks actually still think for themselves rather than just regurgitate what they've been fed!

Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 32 weeks ago

The major factor in Canada has been our idiotic, anti-democratic First-Past-The-Post electoral system, which sadly the US & Britain share. Trudeau promised if elected, that this will be the last election under the FPTP excuse for democracy. The liberal election platform statement:

"AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better"

Harper would win a virtual dictatorship in Canada with support from 24% of electorate. He won all three elections because the four left wing parties split the left wing vote and he won because the Conservatives are the only right wing party.

And Harper, like the establishment US politicians, took advantage of the use of obscene, negative personal attack ads to defeat his opponents, mostly ignoring all issues. Under Instant Run-Off or Preferential Voting, using negative attack ads will cause a candidate to lose alternative votes, quite likely causing an election loss.

If Canada moves to IRV, the conservatives will be unelectable, unless they move substantially to the left.

In the US, the two party duolopoly is maintained thanks to the ridiculous FPTP system. Anyone votes for a third party, is just wasting their vote, and even worse, effectively voting for a candidate that they despise. Which is exactly what the Green party supporters did in 2000, effectively electing the corrupt, warmongering, Bankster stooge, George Bush. Under IRV that would not have happened.




The Alternative Vote Explained:


The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained:



mathboy's picture
mathboy 7 years 32 weeks ago

Let me add one, IRV. It seems like a blind spot that we think we have to have exactly one legislative vote per district.


Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 32 weeks ago

mathboy, I would steer clear of complicated voting systems.

There are more complex electoral systems that attempt to balance the need for proportional and regional representation, as well as allowing for majority choice, as IRV does. Problem is, under the current corrupt stooge form of crony capitalist government we have, if you don't keep it simple and start small, it ain't gonna happen. The ReBloodicans & DemoCripps are going to fiercely oppose any attempt tor replace the two-party corporate dictatorship.

IRV electoral systems are simple minded, common and easy to implement at a local level for anything from the dog catcher, judge or mayor. And state or federal elections. Get people used to true power of voting. Real choice motivates people to show up for voting, where with FPTP it is often a futile exercise, no real choice. Corrupt corporate stooge version A or Corrupt corporate stooge version B. Some choice that is.

Whether voting for a proportional legislature or a single office, IRV works effectively. Whether Party or Non-Party System IRV still works well.

Once British Columbia held a commission on Electoral Reform, and this commission researched all electorals systems in the world. And they came up with a rather complex version of the STV or Single Transferrable Vote, electoral system and that went to a referendum in 2009, and lost by 60% to 40%, simply because most BC residents were too dumb and/or too lazy to understand it. A real shame. I recall talk show hosts, who have a college education, opposing the system claiming "I just don't understand it". Now they are stuck again with the idiotic FPTP electoral system disaster, when the commission could have instead proposed the simple minded IRV.


mathboy's picture
mathboy 7 years 31 weeks ago

My system doesn't require voters to vote any differently. It's also possible that instant-runoff voting could be grafted onto it. (I've actually come up with a fictional scenario where that would be useful.)

I've also tried to understand STV, but it's hard without seeing how it's derived. Just a description of what happens in one example, as on Wikipedia, leaves a lot unexplained.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 7 years 31 weeks ago

I'd like to add that my system also takes advantage of apathy. If people are discouraged from voting, politicians get less power.

I'll admit, though, that there is a possibility of a reverse tragedy of the commons. If the same discouragement obtains everywhere, then it's as if it's happening nowhere.

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