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Apr
26 2011

The Last Time the NDP Were This High in the Polls…

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

With less than a week to go in this federal election campaign, the big story has finally crystalized.   The New Democratic Party under Jack Layton's leadership has caught the wave.  For literally five years, public opinion has been static. Each of the parties have risen or fallen a few points here or there, but essentially the playbook has been set.   And then came the leaders' debates in which the conventional wisdom suggests Layton shone. And then came a few successful appearences on some popular Quebec television programs. And bingo...Orange Crush. The NDP have moved into second place --- the only time in Canadian history the party has been this competitive this deep into a campaign.   Being a fan of history, I'm thinking back to 1990 in the province of Ontario, when the NDP, led by now Liberal MP Bob Rae, caught a similar wave and suddenly found themselves in first place with a week to go.   What happened then? The outcry was actually more frantic than it is today. The Liberals finally figured out that the last place Conservatives under Mike Harris weren't the enemy. (The PCs were somewhat irrelevant in the campaign). Instead, the Liberals relentlessly hammered away at the NDP with a Red Scare-like series of attacks.   Premier David Peterson warned that kids would go hungry, people would go homeless --- he threw everything but the kitchen sink at the NDP.  And you know what?   It almost worked.   The NDP were tracking at 44% in the polls with a week to go. Had that number stuck, the party would have won a massive majority government.   Instead, the "red baiting" caused the NDP to lose seven points in the last week, finishing with 37.6% of the total votes cast.  As it turned out, because of some historically odd vote splits, that turned out to be good enough for a majority government.   So, if history is any guide, can we look forward to all the other parties targeting Jack Layton in the remaining days? Absolutely. It's already happening.   The Liberals are calling the NDP platform science fiction, running this ad which targets the NDP, rather than the Conservatives, whom you'd have expected the Liberals to be targeting this late in a campaign.   Even the Conservatives, who normally encourage the NDP to do well because that potentially takes votes away from the Liberals, are getting so concerned that they're attacking the social democrats too.   With the latest Angus Reid poll showing the NDP within spitting distance of the governing Conservatives, can a reprise of the Red Scare tactics from 1990 be far behind?   I suspect not. The question is, how will Canadians in 2011 respond?  

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