With the outpouring of emotion for Jack Layton, political observers on the Prairies wonder if the federal NDP leader's untimely death will serve to galvanize the party's support in two provinces heading to the polls this fall.
Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger faces his closest challenger, Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, on Oct. 4. Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter is challenging Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall on Nov. 7.
“I don't think that anyone wants to think of what sort of politics might emerge in the short-term out of the sadness that we're all feeling,” said veteran Manitoba New Democrat Bill Blaikie, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979 and left in 2008 to run provincially. He won a seat and was named to cabinet, but is not running in the October election.
“Everybody ... who is involved in the campaign will be inspired to campaign just a little harder ... having Jack for an example as someone who in spite of obvious personal medical difficulties soldiered on,” Mr. Blaikie said. “As I heard someone say ... ‘you know the next time I think about whether I just want to canvass one more block or do one more pamphlet drop or whatever the case may be, I just think of Jack Layton and how he persevered.”’
Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Mr. Layton “had very wide coat tails” and carried a lot of younger candidates, particularly from Quebec, all the way to Parliament Hill. But that doesn't necessarily translate into votes for the NDP in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, Mr. Thomas suggested.
“I think he serves as a source of inspiration for people in the party and a source of motivation,” he said in an interview from Winnipeg.
“On the party level I think it pays a real dividend. I think people will be more motivated in the fall in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan to get out the vote and identify the vote and get it out.
“I think in that sense, there will be some spillover, but the provincial elections are fought on provincial issues and each province has its own history, traditions and political culture.”
Howard Leeson, a University of Regina political science professor, agreed.
Mr. Leeson noted that the NDP captured more of the popular vote in Saskatchewan in the May federal election than it did in 2008, but the party still didn't win any seats in the province.
The NDP boost may have been in part because the Liberal vote “virtually collapsed,” he said. There might be a spillover effect in November if some Saskatchewanians who voted for the New Democrats for the first time in May consider voting for the provincial NDP.
“But that will depend a great deal on the leaders here, the issues, the provincial issues. It just predisposes them a bit more than they would have in the past I think,” said Mr. Leeson.
“Some of the ridings were very close, and if that predisposition were to spill over and all other things equal, which we never know, then likely it could have a positive impact for the NDP. Certainly, if I were the NDP strategist I would feel much better about the provincial election after the federal than I would have before it.”
Mr. Lingenfelter said Mr. Layton was planning to come to Saskatchewan to help the provincial campaign. He suggested Mr. Layton's lasting impact will be one of inspiration.
“I'm sure that there is a boost,” Mr. Lingenfelter said. “It has an interesting effect because I think the way it affects the most is people being motivated to go out and knock on doors and work and be involved in the movement.”