Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

Tom Mulcair collapse means big problems for Earle McCurdy

With the federal NDP incumbents ousted by a Liberal wave in Newfoundland and Labrador, it could be rough seas ahead for the provincial party, writes David Cochrane.
As NDP incumbents Ryan Cleary and Jack Harris get the boot in their federal ridings, there may be a larger problem for the provincial party. (CBC)

As the votes rolled in Monday night and the orange wave rolled out, you could feel the crisis of confidence spreading through the provincial NDP like a virus.

Monday night's federal election didn't just end the political careers of Jack Harris and Ryan Cleary. It revealed a whole new set of challenges for provincial NDP Leader Earle McCurdy, just six weeks from the next election day.

The picture was so different in the heights of summer. Public opinion polls had the N.L. NDP in second place — ahead of the governing Progressive Conservatives.

On the federal scene, Prime Minister Tom Mulcair seemed more of a probability than a pipe dream. A buoyant provincial campaign organizer walked me through the benefits of a strong federal campaign and the inevitable lift it would give the provincial party.

To the bitter end, NDP insiders claim they didn't see it coming.- David Cochrane

Internal polling had Cleary beating Seamus O'Regan by double digits. Harris was one of the safest seats in Atlantic Canada, if not the entire country.

The New Democrats were so confident in their incumbents they were looking at ways to funnel extra resources into Avalon in the hopes that Jeannie Baldwin could catch another orange wave.

Even if that wave didn't elect three NDP MPs, it would provide a base of identified voters that the provincial party could carry into November.

In early September, federal NDP organizers were privately telling people they saw a clear path to 140 seats. "After that, it gets tricky," one senior official said. 

Tricky indeed.

Didn't see it coming

The problem with waves is they have a habit of cresting, crashing and receding. And then leaving a pile of wreckage on the shore.

An enthusiastic Nick Whalen greets supporters, as he gets word that Jack Harris conceded in Monday night's federal election. (CBC)

Cleary attacked O'Regan for "spending too much time on the mainland." Now O'Regan goes back to the mainland as a member of Parliament.

Nick Whalen carried a sling into St. John's East. Trudeau's surge gave him the stone he needed.

Baldwin finished well behind Liberal Ken McDonald. She even finished third to independent Scott Andrews, who ran in spite of his starring role in a parliamentary sexual harassment scandal.

To the bitter end, NDP insiders claim they didn't see it coming. They conceded the Baldwin longshot wouldn't happen and they knew Cleary was in a dogfight with O'Regan, but they were adamant that Harris was safe.

When the Liberals started shopping around an internal poll suggesting Whalen might win, the NDP denied there was any evidence of such a swing. It simply wasn't showing up in their canvassing.

So either these NDP insiders were lying about St. John's East (and I don't think they were), or their inability to detect the change revealed big problems in their campaign infrastructure.

Even after the 2011 breakthrough the NDP still don't know who their supporters are.

And if they couldn't count on them on Oct. 19, how can they count on them Nov. 30?

About the Author

David Cochrane is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau. He previously wrote for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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