How are the New Democrats doing in Quebec? It depends which newspaper you read. "The NDP is losing ground in Quebec," announced a headline in Le Devoir on Tuesday. On the same day, commenting on the same Léger Marketing survey, The Gazette proclaimed that orange is "still [the]province's favourite colour."
Actually, both newspapers had the poll results right. The NDP remained the first federal party in Quebec, with 37-per-cent support. The Bloc Québécois were at 27, with the Conservatives and Liberals lagging at 15 per cent. But for the first time since the May 2 election, the Dippers are losing ground. They lost six points in a month (Léger's October poll showed them at 43 per cent), while the Bloc gained the same number of points – confirmation, if it was needed, that the two parties compete for the same part of the electorate.
Both the New Democrats and the Bloc are in the process of choosing a new leader, but the Bloc's campaign, with three candidates competing for the top job, seems to have somehow revived the party, even though it remains a rump reduced to four seats in Parliament. Two of the contenders have a relatively high profile: Maria Mourani is the feisty, outspoken MP for Ahuntsic, and Daniel Paillé is an economist and a former industry minister in Jacques Parizeau's provincial government. If Mr. Paillé wins, he will have to lead the Bloc from the outside, since he lost his riding in May's orange tsunami.
The NDP leadership campaign seems to be hurting the party, at least in Quebec. Most of the contenders are unknown in the province, and none has yet started campaigning there. The only household name, Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair, has not been much present in the news either. Even though his team has helped to triple NDP memberships in the province, Quebeckers still form less than 6 per cent of the national membership, which puts Mr. Mulcair at a disadvantage.
Jack Layton's disappearance left a terrible void, especially in Quebec, where many voted for "Jack" rather than for a party they knew little about. Not only is the NDP without a leader, it is totally devoid of leadership. While Bob Rae does a superb job as interim leader for the Liberals, the NDP's Nycole Turmel has no parliamentary skills and, it turns out, not many political skills, either.
The party has made several mistakes. For instance, it reacted too late to the appointment of two unilingual anglophones as a Supreme Court judge and as auditor-general, an unforgivable omission since the NDP had previously been very vocal in pushing for bilingualism. The New Democrats were represented at the committee that proposed Michael Moldaver for the Supreme Court, and had received Michael Ferguson's CV in advance, but didn't bother to check whether he spoke French.
According to Léger Marketing research director Sébastien Dallaire, these nominations are partly responsible for the Bloc's surge. But there is more. Apart from Mr. Mulcair, who's busy with his own leadership campaign, there is no credible French speaker who could keep the orange flag floating in Quebec. Most NDP MPs are young and inexperienced – many were most recently students – and the older ones with successful careers behind them are not up to the task, either for lack of natural political abilities or because there is no one to guide them. The Quebec wing is badly in need of a mentor, but there's no one in sight.