Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Outremont won by Liberals' phantom opponent [updated]

The results are in: the NDP's Thomas Mulcair has managed to pull off a convincing win over the Liberals in the Québec riding of Outremont tonight, giving the party their second seat in the province ever.

So now the post-mortem begins. Given the direction things have been going in over the last few days, though, I think it's pretty safe to say that pundits and bloggers alike will pronounce this a failure of Dion's leadership, and chatter ad nauseum about what this means for the Liberals' fortunes. I can't help but notice that we seem to have entered a universe in which this historic NDP victory is All About The Liberals--not only were there accusations of sabotage and cries of incompetence, but the Toronto Star declared that "all eyes" were "on the Liberals", and today's big story in the Globe and Mail didn't mention the NDP until paragraph fourteen. Apparently, it's more interesting to hover like vultures circling the guy you think is likely to lose than it is to tell the story of the underdog who rose from the depths of the single- and low-double-digits to beat him.

Just imagine for a moment, though, that Outremont wasn't lost solely and exclusively because Ignatieff's camp has reignited old rivalries, because the crew on the ground in the Outremont Liberal offices was made up largely of buffoons, or even because Dion sucks rotten goose eggs through a bendy straw. Just imagine that there were additional factors that had--gasp!--nothing at all to do with the Liberals. Such as the fact that Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair are both very popular in Montreal. Such as the fact that Mulcair, as a former provincial Liberal environment minister who resigned over a conflict with his party's leadership, has a lot of positive name-recognition. And perhaps most importantly, such as the fact that the NDP has been fighting hard in Outremont since mid-summer, maintaining two hopping campaign offices, doorknocking and phoning and fundraising unceasingly, and simply organizing rings around the Liberal camp in every way.

I do realize that it's awfully hard to complain tonight, as a New Democrat--and believe me, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. But as the numbers get picked over and analyzed within an inch of their life in the next few weeks, I'd like to urge everyone to remember that the Liberals actually had an opponent here. And that maybe--just maybe--this historic result had as much to do with that opponent's competence as it did with the Liberals' incompetence.

["Thank god somebody's seeing what I'm seeing" update: Politblogo agrees, as does the Jurist, and so does Tyler Kinch. Antonio from Fuddle Duddle, who lives in the area, admits that the Liberals were "outclassed" by the NDP, thereby proving that the only Liberal willing to do anything other than contemplate his own navel this morning is an ex-Liberal.

"I'd go even further back than mid-summer" update: Northern B.C. Dipper points out that this wasn't just about the NDP's ground game, either--this was a result of a years-long NDP strategy that's finally paid off. He's absolutely right, too; in fact, many of us who have helped organize campaigns in winnable ridings out west have been irritated with the party brass for focusing energy and resources and strategy on Québec when "we're winnable and they aren't." (Confidential to any higher-ups in the party who might be reading: You were right, we were wrong, and I have never been happier to eat crow than I am today. But we're next, right?)

"It's not either-or" update: James Bow summarizes this post with "Idealistic Pragmatist wishes the media would say the NDP won, rather than Dion lost." I counter with the following:

That's a bit of an oversimplification of what I said, isn't it? Of course they're going to analyze what happened last night for the Liberals, but you have to admit that if this were ANY other country and ANY other party, the loser would have been the sidebar rather than the only story. I mean, the networks didn't even show Mulcair's victory speech last night!

I know I shouldn't be surprised about this after so many years, but I have to admit that I am. Liberal entitlement is so institutionalized in this country that it persists even when "if the Liberals lost, it must mean they suck" narratives are the only alternative to taking a good long look at the party that beat them and how they WON.


Québécoise ambulante said...

Thomas Mulcair gained the population's support when he stood up against a condominium project on a provincial park. There was a concensus in the population about this: no one (except Jean Charest and condo developers) wanted Orford, even just part of it, be sold to private interests. One of my favorite artists even wrote a song about it :

Anyway, as much as I like seing the NDP gain a seat in Québec, I can't help but wonder how much this happened because Mulcair was the candidate. I've heard some analysts on Radio-Canada say tonight that no one but Mulcair could have done it for the NDP. I don't know... it's still quite something to throw the Liberals out after 20 years. Let's hope now that the presence of Mulcair will encourage more Quebec voters to support the NDP!

JG said...

Interestingly enough, Phil Edmonston back in 1990 was something of a star candidate as well. Of course, then Meech collapsed, and the Quebec NDP adopted a sovereigntist platform and was expelled from the party. (Edmonston was a nationalist, incidentally, and opposed Dave Barrett's leadership campaign in 1989.)

Matt said...


You're certainly right that this is also a story about Mulcair's success. Certainly, the team that ran the NDP campaign two elections ago could not have pulled out the vote the way that it did tonight - two campaign offices in the riding is double the number of campaign offices that existed for all the ridings in the entire city two elections ago.

But I really do think that this is more about Mulcair himself than about a trend towards the NDP on the whole. His name recognition far outstrips that of most of the sacrificial lamb candidates that are normally run in the province, including the somewhat more prominent people who have run in Outremont before (but who never broke the 20% threshold). By voting for him, former Bloc voters could also indirectly thumb their noses at Jean Charest. I think that now that he's in, he stands a decent chance of re-election, but I don't think you'll see a major trend of Montrealers rushing to vote NDP in the next federal election.

Mark Dowling said...

The NDP concentrated their fire on a single seat while the Liberals concentrated their fire on each other. The BQ and Tories didn't give a stuff as they had their own business to attend to.

Is the NDP going to hold Outremont without substantial help from outside Quebec in a general when it's every riding for him/herself and the Liberals put up a candidate without a serious credibility problem with their usual support? Hold that riding in the general and that will be front page news.

Hard to see the general coming soon though as the Bloc will probably be a bit wary for a while of the Tory and NDP threats to its selfish and socialist selling points respectively and the Liberal clawing and biting has only just got going.

Greg said...

The party has to decide and soon whether it is going to buy into the xenophobia in Quebec or argue against it. Good win by the party but it is raising a lot of red flags too.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


You are very sweet to share in our victory given the other things that happened last night--it's much appreciated. :)

You're right that Mulcair was a major factor (and perhaps THE major factor), but he couldn't have pulled off a win without a solid organization behind him and a lot of excited feet on the ground. And keep in mind that the party spent months wooing Mulcair, too--so they can take a lot of credit for that, as well. This has been a longtime strategy of the NDP's and particularly of Layton's, and last night it finally paid off.


I actually think it's too soon to say whether or not this will bring the NDP any additional successes in Québec or elsewhere. That depends on a lot of factors that simply aren't clear right now. But I will say one thing: the Liberals will keep underestimating the NDP at their own peril. If they're sitting there thinking that the only reason they lost Outremont last night is because their own party is screwed up, then they're only seeing half of the story. And as irritating as that is, as a New Democrat I'm perfectly happy for them to keep persisting under that delusion.

Sean S. said...

It may be because of Munclair, but lets remember what party he was running for....and the fact that the NDP was able to garner such a "big name" should attest to the parties growing strength in the province as well.

As an NDPer I have always been impressed by the BQ platform (save that whole separation thing) as it is the closest to NDP policy of any of the three major parties. With the HUGE BQ drop last night it is nice to see most of that vote coming our way (at least in the urban riding).

Anonymous said...

I hope Thomas Mulcair lives up to his reputation. And I hope the publicity around this by-election will demonstrate to Quebec voters and potential candidates that there is a non-separatist social-democrat option.

Jason Townsend said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Townsend said...

In fairness, yes, the whole post-Outremont discussion has actually taken a very long jump over Thomas Mulcair and not looked back. A point well made.

At the same time, this is natural; the other arguments about what did or didn't contribute to the LPC losing a long-time riding are (or are believed to be) matters that we can remedy.

Fair enough to attack the media doing the same focus, I suppose, but we Liberals have (and I say this not as a fling but as a calculation) bigger problems to worry about than strong NDP candidacies. Bigger problems than the New Democrats more generally, since there is generally that hoary old cycle of NDP success causing Liberal distress causing NDP egress.

Anthony said...

a few people at the paper last night asked me the same question.

The NDP never wins in Quebec but why are the Liberals the story?

In the end, the Liberals were in fact outclassed. But the bigger story (sorry dude) is the upset and the massive size of the upset. Mulcair will become the story eventually, but right now, the shcok in the Quebec Liberal Party will remain the big news

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm much more annoyed with the media than I am with the Liberals on this one, it's true. Although I do think that the Liberals will continue to ignore the NDP at their own peril, it's understandable that the first things you guys are going to want to analyze in the immediate post-election days are the mistakes you yourselves made. The media, on the other hand, is under no obligation to play along with that narrative. It's a peculiarly Canadian phenomenon that the David-and-Goliath narrative got totally neglected in favour of a much more pedestrian "the Liberals just suck that much" narrative. That really would not have happened anywhere else in the free world. And in the end, not only does it not describe what happened last night, but it also does a disservice not only to the New Democrats (by ignoring them), but also to the Liberals (by not taking into account the fact that they faced a formidable opponent).


I'm more of a "dudette" than a "dude," but your point is taken. :) And it's good to know that you had some colleagues that were thinking along these lines, anyway.

Neil McKenty said...

I know both Phil Edmunstone and Tom Mulcair. Mulcair is a sharp buy with a patina of Irish blarney. I doubt he is the cutting edge for an NDP breakthrough in Quebec.

The BIG story for the Liberals is that, whatever happened in Quebec yesterday, Stephane Dion will be leading the party in the next election. And the control freak now at 24 Sussex should be remember Dion has always been underestimated.

Candace said...

I have never rooted for an NDP candidate before, but I was last night. As Antonio says, the Liberals were outclassed, and as you point out, kudos (should) go to the party and Jack! (ouch, that hurt, I really don't LIKE Jack!).

The fact that the Liberals also tanked, completely and utterly, in the other two ridings add fuel to the "Liberals are in deep $hit" fire. The fact that the CPC candidate won Roberval with such a huge margin has also barely made a blip on the media radar.

It's a delight to see the Bloc take such a beating - across the board - but that's hardly being discussed, either.


However, re: "it's too soon to say whether or not this will bring the NDP any additional successes in Québec or elsewhere" I would argue that if the Bloc voters continue to break the way they did last night (NDP urban, CPC rural), the possibility certainly exists. Let's not forget that the CPC were expected to be shut out of Quebec in the last election and most definitely were not.

If Mulclair's win encourages other high-profile candidates to run for the NDP in Montreal, I would think that all bets are off, no?

And while I agree with your overall disgust of the media's obsession about the shape of the Liberal party, after 13 long years in the desert it's wonderful to see the shoe on the other foot. Makes me want to go buy some beer & popcorn. Too bad my daughter isn't under 6, my snacks could have been funded by the feds./sarc

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

However, re: "it's too soon to say whether or not this will bring the NDP any additional successes in Québec or elsewhere" I would argue that if the Bloc voters continue to break the way they did last night (NDP urban, CPC rural), the possibility certainly exists.

Sure, but that's a big 'if' right there, and it's paired with a lot of other 'ifs' that would have to follow from it. It's not impossible; it's just way too early to start touting the NDP as the clear choice of social democrats in Québec. No sense in getting overly cocky--that would make us look like Liberals!

Mary Soderstrom said...

Having spent far more time than I meant to campaigning for Thomas Mulcair, let me say that the most striking thing about this victory is the way the people--old, young, Francophone, Anglophone, Allophone--responded to his courage, integrity and candor in standing up to the provincial Liberal government of which he had been a member on some important issues.

The NDP has almost always got 10 per cent of the vote in Outremont--a large and varied urban riding--even when they haven't run a good campaign. The only other time a non-Liberal ran is also directly related to a strong NDP campaign. Liberal Lucie Pépin and NDPer Louise O'Neill split the left/left centre vote in 1988 and the PC's Jean-Pierre Hogue slipped through to victory.

I was very involved in that campaign, and the result put me off active politics for 10 years. But the ground is shifting and maybe we'll actually be able to do some good in the next little bit.