The federal NDP’s orange crush could turn into a Green wave this year

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was not being malicious when he suggested the Green party might be becoming a refuge for orphan progressive voters in the lead up to next fall’s federal election.

“Progressives are looking for a home on environmental issues,” Mulcair said on Sunday’s edition of CTV’s Question Period, adding that “people who believe that environmental issues should be top of mind are … going to start paying attention to Elizabeth May’s Green party.”

The implication that the NDP may no longer offer such voters a suitable home undoubtedly enraged many of Mulcair’s former comrades-in-arms.

In his new pundit role, he has become another thorn in the side of the already ailing NDP, feeding conspiracy theories that he is laying the groundwork for the party that rejected him for losing the last election to get down on bended knees to get him back for the upcoming one.

Others allege that Mulcair is making up for the humiliation of having been voted out by indulging in a vendetta against the New Democrats.

Both explanations have the dubious merit of sparing the New Democrats some uncomfortable introspection.

For, if Mulcair were to be guilty of anything, it would be of indulging in the punditry sport of shooting at an ambulance. And what an ambulance the federal NDP has become.

What, for instance, is a voter to make of the mixed climate change messages of the 2019 New Democrats?

Should he or she set a watch on Jagmeet Singh, a leader who supports some fossil fuel-related infrastructures like British Columbia’s LNG project, but not others, like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?

Or should that voter look instead to Svend Robinson, a former NDP leadership runner-up who says he is coming out of political retirement to fight climate change.

In his book, that means ensuring no new oil or gas infrastructure is allowed. And then there are Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s New Democrats.

To get their provinces’ resources to market, both support building more of the infrastructure whose construction Robinson would have a federal NDP government ban.

And speaking of Saskatchewan, what are voters to make of the fact that in the province that was the cradle of the NDP, the party’s wing is so at odds with the current federal leader, that it will not have him visit?

Mulcair’s weekend comments came on the heels of the news that the Green party had reported its best fundraising fourth quarter ever, capping off its strongest intake in a non-election year.

For its part, the NDP registered its worst quarter in eight years. Alone of the five parties represented in the House of Commons, including the Bloc Quebecois, it ended the fundraising year on a poor note.

If Singh does secure a seat in Parliament this month, it will take more than a good performance in question period to right his listing ship in time for the fall campaign.

The Green party, by comparison, has entered the election year buoyed by a string of modest but nevertheless significant provincial breakthroughs.

The party tripled its seat count from one to three in New Brunswick, a result that comes with some leverage in a provincial legislative assembly dominated by the opposition.

Polls show the Greens in contention for government in Prince Edward Island.

The party’s Ontario leader – Mike Schreiner – was elected to the legislature last June.

The New Democrats have been given up for dead in the past only to eventually surge back to pre-eminence. But no party has a permanent lease on resurrection.

Ask the Parti Quebecois, a party whose history over the past four decades was more successful than that of the federal NDP. Last October, Quebec Solidaire on the left and the Coalition Avenir Quebec on the right sucked most of the life out of the province’s once-leading sovereigntist force.

The federal NDP could face a similar pincer-like movement, losing the progressive voters who worry more about a return to power of the Conservatives than about propping up a troubled third party to the Liberals and the climate change activists to the Greens.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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