NDP's summer slump deepened by House spending woes
A storm of political misfortune has left Team Orange looking a little blue
It's not just the money, it's the principle of the thing.
That, in a nutshell, sums up why the House of Commons spending scandal engulfing the New Democratic Party represents a fresh load of trial and tribulation for an Official Opposition already enduring a frustrating year.
It's bad enough, both from an optics and a practical perspective, that nearly two dozen caucus members, including party leader Tom Mulcair, face the prospect of being put on the collective hook for millions related to the cost of mass mail-outs and out-of-town staffers now deemed an inappropriate use of their parliamentary office budgets.
But what likely stings just as much, if not more, is that this is the first time in memory the federal NDP has been at the centre of a controversy involving public money — actual, presumably hard-earned, taxpayer dollars, as the Conservatives are so keen to point out in every communiqué on the issue.
Perhaps even more potentially damaging are the latest allegations from the secretive all-party Board of Internal Economy, which revealed this week that several NDP staffers at that now-shuttered satellite office in Montreal may have done double duty on the party's byelection campaign in Bourassa. That's an Elections Act no-no.
For a party accustomed to being on the other side of the pointy finger of righteous political outrage, it's a role reversal likely to be all the more frustrating after a parliamentary semester in which Mulcair's prosecutorial performance in the House was regularly lauded as the most effective outing by an Official Opposition in years, particularly in comparison to the lacklustre, overly scripted stylings of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Despite those rave reviews, however, Mulcair and the NDP routinely trail Trudeau and the Liberals in the polls — both those of the popular opinion variety, and the ones involving actual ballot boxes, as evidenced by last month's byelection loss to the Liberals in Trinity-Spadina.
There's also been uncharacteristically public grumbling from the party's usually loyal base over what some see as a mushy-middle position on the conflict in Gaza. That disquiet culminated in a sit-in at New Democrat foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar's constituency office and a small but media-covered protest outside Mulcair's official residence last week.
All may not be lost
Still, it's worth recalling — and not without a twinge of retrospective sheepishness on the part of some of us, at least — that this isn't the first time Canada's national political punditerati have predicted the imminent demise of the NDP.
There was, for instance, the lead-up to the 2011 election. At the time, many of us were convinced then leader Jack Layton would support the Conservative budget, since the alternative, we asserted on radio, television and in print, would result in the party being wiped off the electoral map.
No one — not the pollsters, nor the party-aligned soothsayers, much less the media analysts who rely on both to guide their speculation — saw the orange wave that swept Quebec coming.
That is, no one outside the inner circles of the party itself, where you can find any number of strategists who will contend the NDP's success in Quebec was the fruition of a meticulously crafted, multi-year plan that operated at a frequency too high for the rest of us to pick up until it finally hit the radar midway through the campaign.
In any case, undaunted by our failure to accurately forecast the election results, we then proceeded to write off virtually the entire newly elected Quebec caucus as a political train wreck in the making — which also failed to happen.
Assuming the fixed election date of October 2015 sticks — a whole other question that should be put off until another day — by this time next year, we'll be within weeks of the election's official call. But the campaign itself will almost certainly be underway.
Will those long-closed NDP satellite offices still be making the occasional appearance in the headlines?
Will we still be wondering why Mulcair hasn't clicked with voters inside and/or outside Quebec?
Or will the political landscape have shifted, once again, leaving us to look back on the New Democrats' 2014 summer of discontent as just another blip?
Tune in next year, or so, to find out.