A five-month membership blitz has failed to fill the gap between Quebec’s current political importance for the NDP and its actual influence in next month’s selection of a new party leader.
Final membership numbers show the province will have fewer than 10 per cent of eligible NDP voters across the country when party members elect Jack Layton’s successor on March 24. By comparison, Quebec has 24 per cent of Canada’s population, and 57 per cent of the NDP’s seats in the House thanks to last year’s “orange wave,” which was largely fuelled by Mr. Layton’s personal popularity.
Quebec is key to the NDP’s hopes of forming the government in 2015, which can only be achieved by holding on to a majority of seats in the province, and stealing dozens of others from the Conservative Party. When it set the rules of the leadership race after Mr. Layton’s death last summer, the NDP decide on a prolonged campaign to help Quebec catch up with the rest of the country in terms of membership numbers.
Some Quebec MPs have already expressed concerns the next party leader could be less than fluently bilingual, which could seriously weaken the party’s grip on the majority of seats in the province.
The fact Quebec now ranks third among provinces with 12,300 members is a small victory for the NDP, which had almost no card carriers in the province at the start of the campaign. But the number also highlights the failure by the party’s best-known politician, deputy leader and leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair, to reach his goal of attracting 20,000 members in the province.
While NDP membership grew by 10,600 in Quebec, the party picked up a total of 23,300 new members in Ontario and British Columbia over the same time frame. With their strong head start, the two provinces now have 75,500 members, or nearly 60 per cent of eligible participants in the one-member, one-vote contest.
As a result, the seven candidates still involved in the race are expected to spend a large share of their efforts between now and March 24 in the two provinces.
B.C. is seen as a strong territory for local MP Nathan Cullen and party strategist Brian Topp, and Mr. Mulcair has been campaigning there this week. Party officials said Ontario is home to a tight race that also involves Toronto MP Peggy Nash and Ottawa MP Paul Dewar.
Overall, the NDP attracted 44,000 new members since the start of the leadership race last fall, bringing the total number of eligible participants in the contest to 128,351.
It remains unclear which of the seven campaigns has signed up the most new members, and there is no clear winner emerging from the numbers released Tuesday. The remainder of the race will be influenced by debates over the next three Sundays in Winnipeg, Montreal and Vancouver.
Regarding Quebec, the party emphasized the constant growth of membership numbers in the province, and the fact it is now in third place among cardholders after jumping ahead of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in recent months.
Still, McGill University professor Antonia Maioni said Quebec’s overrepresentation in the NDP caucus, and its underrepresentation among rank-and-file, is “a recipe for a very difficult internal party situation.”
Quebec is disadvantaged by the fact it does not have a provincial wing of the NDP, while members of provincial New Democratic parties in the rest of the country are automatically eligible to vote in the federal race.
Mr. Mulcair’s camp said it has high hopes for the new Quebec members, saying they joined the party to participate in the current race and are more likely to vote than members in other provinces, many of whom were involved in recent provincial leadership campaigns.
In a televised interview, Mr. Mulcair said the Quebec membership numbers provide “oxygen” to his campaign, adding he has “an obligation to work throughout the country.”
In a news release, New Democrat national director Chantal Vallerand said that “Canadians are turning to New Democrats in record amounts in order to defeat Stephen Harper and elect a Prime Minister for all Canadians.”