How will the NDP fare in its new role, without Jack Layton?

On Cross Country Checkup: re-jigging the NDP
Canada's new official opposition party is facing a big challenge.  New Democrats must find a leader who can consolidate the gains made by Jack Layton, all while tackling a greater role in Parliament.
What do you think? Can they do it?
With host Rex Murphy


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Every day, it seems, is a big day for the NDP. That party, now the official opposition, and gifted with a parliamentary representation stronger than it has ever had, is choosing or about to go through the process of choosing a leader - to follow the late Jack Layton.

It's a cardinally important choice. The new leader has the task of keeping together the forces that joined the party and its older base. He./she has to consolidate the gains in Quebec, find common ground between supporters outside Quebec and within. And to measure up in some degree to the mightly example of Jack Layton.

The two names more often mentioned as running, or the most prominent two names, are Brian Topp - not an MP, but a 'top' party strategist; and Thomas Mulcair - a Quebec MP, a one-time great catch for the NPD - and a capable parliamentarian.

Topp has to get past his lack of Commons experience, but he has Ed Broadbent's endorsement. Mulcair seems to agitiate some of his fellows, but he has experience and considerable visibility.

Parliament is back on Monday....and for a party so clearly identified with the personality of its former leader, the challenge is obvious and daunting. But it's not the only challenge facing the party. The NDP must also maintain, consolidate and broaden its newfound support ...and do it all while growing into a new role in the House of Commons. The Official Opposition not only holds a government to account, it is also considered the government in waiting. This requires something of a culture change for a party that has traditionally aspired to operate as the nation's moral conscience. In the past the NDP could propose policies and solutions that would be sure to meet a harder eye in the context of government policy.

There's one more challenge the NDP faces ...59 of its 64 new seats in the last election were won in Quebec when voters there deserted the Bloc ...and many of those voters are looking to the NDP to represent their interests, interests that at times might be at odds with other parts of the country. Balancing the needs of different regions of the country is something Canadian political parties always have had to do. But the party who 'wins' Quebec frequently has unique challenges.

So, here's the short order to-do list for New Democrats: find a new leader, adapt to its new role as Official Opposition, and consolidate and broaden support across the land without pitting the regions against one another.

We want to hear from you. What do you think about the challenges facing the New Democratic Party? Are they up to it? Don't forget the Liberals too are looking to rebuild, find a new leader, and win back their role as Official Opposition and government. How is it all going to play out?

Our question just to start the discussion: "How will the NDP fare in its new role will the leadership race go?"

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • André Pratte
    Chief Editorial writer, La Presse & author of Sir Wilfred Laurier, a biography in Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians series.

  • Janice MacKinnon
    Former Finance Minister of Saskatchewan under NDP Premier Roy Romonow. Now Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. .

  • Robin Sears
    Veteran political strategist now a public affairs consultant with Navigator Ltd and a regular contributor to Policy Options Magazine.


National Post

Globe and Mail

Montreal Gazette

Toronto Star


The name to watch for is Nathan Cullen. I think he is the future leader of the NDP and will become Prime Minister in the not-too-distant future.

Margaret Ouwehand
Kitimat, British Columbia

Media has cultivated a hero-worship social physiological profile of our leaders, whether they be political, military, entertainers or others in society performing above the norm. Jack Layton and the NDP took their party into centralist Canada in the Liberal leadership void and have staked their claim on this new ground, as heroes do. To hold both the left and center on the plains of Ottawa will require Quebec, which has see-sawed back and forth with political alliances more than any other region in Canada. Quebecors and the rest of Canada are not in the hero-worship mood anymore, and there is little new ground to take for the NDP. Hence, the NDP after Jack Layton, will be like the charging the Light Brigade onto the battle field, and asking, "Where's the enemy?" and the general saying, "They are right behind us".

Lloyd Stock
Lillooet, British Columbia

Hey Rex,

I think the main point is that the NDP cannot do anything against a majority government. No one in the media is talking about this very important fact.

Corey Robertson
Moncton, New Brunswick

The clever bunch in Quebec finally
managed to get what they really wanted. The Bloc is now the official opposition
whether we like it or not. The rest of the NDP can go whistle as they are the
minority within the party. So we have two nations in the house without
separation. The Liberals really don't count.

Eric Baggs

I believe the NDP will continue its great gains, both in the province of Ontario and federally. People at large are very disillusioned with traditional politics. The late great Jack has become the revered icon of a dedicated, life-long politician of real integrity. People, especially those of the middle class and working class, want a real change, and the NDP clearly provides this opportunity.

I believe the NDP will make great gains in Ontario, and quite possibly may come into power (as they did when Bob Rae became the Premier). Federally, the NDP is represented by a great variety of women and men of high talent and dedication, and almost surely will form the next federal government.

I rejoice that democracy is now alive and well in our country, and will, in my opinion, raise new hope for the people at large, which will then be translated into reality. Our country can then take its proper place in the World, as a leader for peace and for the rights of humanity. This is what the World needs.

Eryl Court
Toronto, Ontario

It will be refreshing to have a clear distinction between official opposition and the government, instead of the Liberals and Conservatives bickering over the details of a shared corporate agenda. The last time we had this was under Mulroney when the Liberals rode to power on the pledge to reverse the despised policies of the Tories only to do a complete flip flop. They wandered so far to the right that the Mulroney government looked like a bunch of progressives.

The country is hungry for a fair deal from Ottawa. If the NDP stick to their principles and don't become tainted with all the goodies dangled before them by the lobbyists they will find themselves in power in the near future.

Belleville, Ontario

Hello Checkup,

We are back to the Rock, and that's a good thing. No one does this quite like Rex Murphy. Maybe it's just me, but i like to hear how people are drawn to elaborate on their views.

Really interesting to hear from Canada about how seems the NDP today. It all seems so hard to fathom.

Dermot Monaghan
Kingston, Nova Scotia

Several factors are in play. It is safe to say that Jack Layton and his team had no time to formulate either a policy package or a tactical template for the immediate future. In terms of creative opportunity that is good news. But in terms of melding such a diverse and new caucus it is a much greater challenge without Jack's charasmatic leadership.

There is no precedent for the position of the NDP. The two other national parties formed when Canada was a much smaller federation. On the other hand we have social media and the Internet to speed communication acoss our vast space. Also, the only precedent for a social movement becoming a party of government is Labour in Britain.

Ron Armstrong
Victoria, British Columbia

The difficulty one caller experienced in joining the NDP probably arises because it is not possible to join through the federal organization. Anyone interested in joining should contact his or her provincial organization. Joining at that level will imply membership at the federal level, as well. This comes from a life member of the NDP, by the way.

Doug Grant
Kitchener, Ontario

Joining the NDP online is very simple. Go to, the main image "Moving Canada Forward: Leadership 2012 - Be a part of it". Click that. You'll be taken to the leadership page. An image about halfway down the page says "Be part of it - become a member today". Click that and you're taken to the membership page where you can join.

Or just go to

I hope this helps the caller.

Jeremy Deeks
Burlington, Ontario

I just heard a listener say he did not know how to join the NDP, but he'd vote for Thomas Mulcair if he could. Thomas Mulcair has my vote too. Somebody needs to kick some butt in Ottawa and he seems to be the only person willing, able, and ready to do so!

Annette Hollmann

The NDP and the Liberals now have a chance to come together and represent the majority of Canadians. The strong NDP support in Quebec should make it clear that Canadians are fed up with having a minority national vote result in a Conservative government coming to power. The power brokers within the Liberals and the NDP need to respond to this chance and stand up and truly represent the wishes of majority of Canadians. Jack brought us to this crossroad. Don`t ignore the wishes of the majority of Canadians.

Gerry Lawlor
Behchoko, Northwest Territories

Hi Rex!

Those who are saying no one can fill Jack Layton's shoes should remember this: Jack could not have achieved what he did without the work of those who came before, from Tommy Douglas, David Lewis and Ed Broadbent, to the numerous provincial premiers the NDP has produced. People thought nobody could fill Tommy Douglas' shoes, but David Lewis did, admirably. People thought that no one could fill David Lewis' shoes and along came Ed Broadbent. Someone may not fill Jack Layton's shoes, exactly, but someone will stand in his or her own shoes and build on the work of Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent and Jack Layton. That job will be challenging, no doubt, but it will be more rewarding, and, in a peculiar way, easier because the political house that Jack helped build includes room for Quebec.

Jim Foulds
Thunder Bay, Ontario

I have always been an NDP supporter and was devastated when Jack died. I am very proud of the number of young people in the party, unlike the CBC and other media I have no concerns about their youth or lack of experience, but as a result I think it is important to have a strong, experienced leader and would like to see Paul Dewar take over leadership. He is an intelligent, well spoken , charismatic and very personable man who comes from a strong NDP background. I am also an admirer of Elizabeth May and would hope that the Green and NDP will unite. The differences between us are far fewer than the common ground we share.

Jan J.
Montreal, Quebec

I'm not sure who would be best as the new NDP party leader. All I know is that whoever becomes leader will still have to face the fact that it will be four more years of 167-131. The Cons will support Harper before they support Canada.
Good Luck.
Ron Jackson
Regina, Saskatchewan

No one has mentioned this, but is there any chance Stephen Lewis could be persuaded to run for the leadership? I remember when he became opposition leader in Ontario in the 1970s and it was a lot like Trudeaumania.

Jim Sprague
Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia

The second story on election night was how the wave turned into a blue wave as soon as it hit the Ontario border. That wave was caused, in large part, by the bleeding of red Liberals to the Conservatives. Similarly, the marginal gain of Conservative support in Western Canada most likely came from Liberals.

If the new leader of the NDP can not bring those voters on board Mr. Harper will have achieved his goal of not only destroying the Liberal party but also turning the Conservatives into the new natural governing party.

Del Robinson
Spruce Grove, Alberta

Here in northern B.C. I believe we are very well represented by NDP MP Nathan Cullen. Mr. Cullen is a possible contender for the party leadership which, if he is selected, would result in him becoming the Leader of the Opposition. Whoever wins will be up against Stephen Harper who has a philosophy and history of destroying his political opposition.

Paul Martin, who exemplified Canadian values and Stephane Dion, who was ahead of his time along with Michael Ignatieff, who was demonized before he even started, were all pushed aside and, with the exception of Mr. Dion, who bravely and admirably stayed on in the background, no longer represent their local constituents.

My concern with Canadian politics is that it is becoming polarized to the extent that we are loosing out on the contributions of some fine individuals. I would be disappointed if Nathan Cullen has to compromise his integrity or his ability to represent the interests of the people of the north coast in order to engage in such a battle for his very survival.

Charley Robertson
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

How come no one is talking about Thomas Mulcair's position on Palestine? I think that is the greatest drawback to his being leader. The NDP has to move forward on this issue and support justice for Palestine.

Marianna Harris
Vancouver, British Columbia

Mr. Murphy,
Just a comment about some things that are being said on your program. My wife and I have voted for "conservative" parties of many names during our life. We are not yet 65, but we are a lot closer to that than even middle age. And we will not be voting for Mr. Harper or his vision of the Conservative Party again, unless there is a great change in their Policy.
If you do not believe that we are already living in a virtual dictatorship, then you have not been paying attention to the treatment that our aboriginal peoples are receiving. Neither are you then paying attention to the treatment that Canadians with disabilities are receiving. Actually, I think that it could be fairly easily said that anyone who doesn't have the power and money to defend themselves is already greatly at risk.
Just the example of how his government has dealt with Dianne Jodhan would only be probably not even the latest indication of just how little respect Mr. Harper has even for our court system. If you need any more evidence on that part, just take a screen reader and try and read any government bill, policy statement or so many other items. Many of them would be grounds for a law suit in the United States for the Originator of the web page as well as the main webmaster. But, here in Canada, excuses have been the order of the day for years.
But, on to the NDP. My wife and I are not yet members but I will tell you that we are really considering it. For something like two-and-a-half decades, both the Liberals and the Conservatives (under whatever name that they put forward ) have made a real mess (expletives not mentioned). No matter what Mr. Harper or that old ex-Ontario Premier says, I really doubt that the NDP could really do much more damage.
I particularly like the idea of a tri-lingual Leader. That is not all of what I think, but I am trying to keep things short.
Ken Westlake
British Columbia

I think the NDP's principles are so strong that the leadership race will not cause hard feelings or difficulty within the party and their performance in parliament. The NDP will become the next governing party and in the meantime the NDP will stand up for Canadians, for medical care and credit card interest debt reduction. The NDP will work to address poverty and homelessness, to create the kind of country Canadians want including respect for First Nations and the environment, food security and the opportunity to find good employment with a living wage.

I appreciate the respectful tone of your program today.

Priscilla Judd
British Columbia



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