NDP election post-mortem finds party's strategy 'out of sync' with Canadians

The working group of New Democrats tasked with reviewing their party's performance in the 2015 election issues a report that criticizes the NDP campaign as "out of sync" with Canadians' desire to break from Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Leader Tom Mulcair's full capabilities 'not on display,' working group concludes

NDP supporters were bitterly disappointed as the results came in last October. A post-mortem released Thursday attempted to identify what went wrong. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A week ahead of the federal NDP's convention in Edmonton, at which Thomas Mulcair's hold on the party leadership will be tested, an internal review of the party's 2015 campaign has catalogued a series of complaints and perceived shortcomings, concluding that the party's offer last year "was out of sync with Canadians' desire for a dramatic break" from a decade of Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

​"Campaign 2015 was an entirely new experience for our movement. Never before had we entered a campaign as the Official Opposition. Never before had we led the polls for weeks before and during the campaign," the NDP's election review working group writes in its final report, released on Thursday morning.

"There is no denying that there is a deep disappointment across our movement. Our campaign came up short, and we missed the opportunity to elect Canada's first federal NDP government.

The 2015 election saw the NDP reduced to 44 seats — a huge drop from the 103 seats the party won in the 2011 election.

The 10-member review team, chaired by party president Rebecca Blaikie and including former NDP MP Paul Dewarsurveyed New Democrats over the course of three months and has summarized what it heard in a 12-page review.

Though the question of Mulcair's leadership will dominate discussion around next week's convention, the leader's performance is only briefly referenced. "We heard disappointment from members who felt that decisions about the strategy employed in the [leaders] debates led to a situation in which our leader's full capabilities — as demonstrated in the House of Commons over the previous years — were not on display," the working group writes.

Mulcair himself has previously blamed the advice he received during debate preparations last year. 

Beyond the disappointment of Mulcair's performance in those debates, the possible explanations for the NDP's election performance are numerous.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice discusses the report into the NDP's failed election campaign 8:01

What went wrong

"The lack of a strong, simple narrative made it difficult to communicate our platform and positions," the NDP report explains, "and as a result it became difficult for Canadians to distinguish us from the Liberals."

The party's commitment to a balanced budget is blamed for undercutting the party's platform, being out of step with the times and allowing the Liberals to own the idea of change. The release of the NDP's platform is said to have been late and poorly explained. It is noted that the party lacked a "Quebec-specific offer."

The federal campaign's television advertising is described as weak and sparse. The party is said to have failed to adequately prepare for the niqab debate. Party activists told the review that the party's candidates were not properly showcased and questioned why the party "refused to participate in some national debates," seemingly a reference to the NDP's decision to decline the broadcast consortium's offer of an English-language debate.

The party's campaign was found to be insufficiently"nimble" in its ability to respond to attacks and change strategy as the campaign progressed. New Democrats told the review that reporting from local campaigns seemed to go unheard or was disregarded by the party's headquarters. New and young voters were not properly pursued.

What now?

The working group makes more than two dozen recommendations, most having to do with the party's internal processes and communication. If implemented, a campaign plan and draft platform, including a "distinct Quebec strategy," would be presented to an election planning committee at least one year before the next election.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair faces a review vote at the party's convention in Edmonton next week. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"As New Democrats, we practise the politics of conviction," the report explains. "That is not antithetical to developing a message and a campaign that successfully earns the support of Canadians. Being better at telling our story will bring us greater electoral success. We can do that in an authentic way and we can rely on the thousands of volunteers that make up our political movement."

But the NDP report was released on the same day that a new poll from EKOS put the NDP at just 11.7 per cent in national support, more than 30 percentage points behind the federal Liberals and eight points below what the NDP received in last fall's election.

In Edmonton next week, NDP delegates will consider the working group's report, as well as a series of policy resolutions. They will also be asked to vote on Tom Mulcair's leadership.

That vote, which will take place on April 10, has become the most prominent point of debate ahead of the party convention, with supporters and detractors speaking out publicly. It has been suggested that for him to remain leader, Mulcair needs at least 70 per cent of delegates to vote against launching a new leadership race.

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