Doorstep Postings: The NDP could pull off a miracle worthy of Hanukkah

Avi Lewis, now aiming to be an elected NDP politician—just like his father and grandfather had been—in a campaign video screenshot.

NDP = Nes gaDol Po?

Somewhere, out in the sleepy, endlessly stretching burbs of Ottawa, a hat remains uneaten. 

A well-known and well-liked Conservative digital expert promised to eat said hat, you see, if the Ontario NDP won the riding of Niagara Falls in a 2014 byelection. (It was in a Facebook post, so maybe it doesn’t count.)

I had it on good authority that a photo of the comically moustachioed candidate Wayne Gates had been taped to a wall of the downtown headquarters of the Ontario PCs, next to a likeness of Joseph Stalin.

I joked at the time that the early kibbutzes also featured wall photos of the communist despot—until the truth came out and the association became too uncomfortable. (Gates won, and he’s been re-elected twice.)

For this reason—and also, since the Talmud makes no provision for whether eating hats are kosher—I don’t want to ignore the NDP. Far from it. I respect the NDP, and I have actually voted for them… to punish an outgoing Liberal government, when my local Conservative candidate had barely shown up.

In many ways, this is the NDP’s ideal breakthrough election scenario, with the two major parties scrapping over things the average voter mostly doesn’t care about. In many ways, their strategy can be boiled down to: smile a lot, stand out from the pack, get noticed by Canadians, and ride the Orange Wave:

One of the most terrifying experiences in Canadian politics is staring down an NDP campaign that’s showing serious momentum. It leaves a lasting impression on you. When I first came to Ottawa as a slightly more clueless intern, the old-timers were still talking about the NDP’s 1981 federal byelection upset of Liberal insider Jim Coutts in downtown Toronto. (That’s older than me.)

From Nova Scotia to Nunavut, the NDP regional breakthrough, and subsequent disappearance, is more of a feature of Canadian politics than a bug. We can all remember Jack Layton’s breathtaking out-of-nowhere rise to second place in 2015, but we don’t remember how his successor, Tom Mulcair, embarrassed the Liberals in a 2007 byelection victory in the heavily Jewish and supposedly safe seat of Outremont. 

If we look a little closer, we see the visible, vocal Jewish NDPers for whom social justice is a way of life, not just nice words. Tom Mulcair’s wife. Andrea Horwath’s former chief of staff’s partner. Former downtown Toronto MPP Jonah Schein.

And in this election, Avi Lewis, whose entire family history is one of longshot wins, running in the West Vancouver riding where the party finished fourth last time.

Sadly, at some point, people start wondering whether you can govern as well as protest, and here’s where the bloom always comes off the NDP rose. Just because socialism works in theory doesn’t mean that Canadians are going to get over their legendary aversions to ideology. You can call it social democracy and put in on a bicycle, or you can talk about it in a Twitch-streamed game of Among Us with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but it’s still “divisive” and will “pit Canadians against one another.” 

Dippers are going to hate me for saying this, but there’s not a lot of structural differences between left-wing and right-wing internal squabbles over how much to moderate in the face of overwhelming centrism. Voters don’t have the patience for it, and Liberals love to exploit it, scaring strategic voters with the prospect of a conservative government made possible by an NDP surge. 

Could this be the election where the NDP finally achieves and maintains a breakthrough at the expense of a wilting Liberal Party? It seems like an impossible dream—but they certainly have the will to make it happen.    

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.