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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair addesses supporters in Montreal after election results, October 19, 2015.

FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

On the day after more than half of his caucus lost their seats in a Liberal sweep, Tom Mulcair consoled those New Democrats who did not survive the onslaught and congratulated those who did.

But he did not face reporters to answer questions about his own future – or that of his party – after the drubbing that stripped the NDP of its role as Official Opposition and relegated his MPs, once again, to the benches of the third party in the House of Commons.

Mr. Mulcair will head the federal NDP for the foreseeable future, his handlers said. But his position has become more tenuous. The NDP constitution requires him to undergo a leadership review at the party convention next April. And there is already significant grumbling from rank-and-file members on social media who are asking whether he deserves another chance.

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Full coverage of Federal Election 2015

Jack Layton, the man who is revered within the NDP for orchestrating the Orange Crush of 2011 that sent 103 New Democrats to Ottawa, led the party through four elections. In three of them, he took fewer than the 44 seats won by the NDP this week under Mr. Mulcair.

There were times in the not-so-distant past that Monday's result would have looked good, said Olivia Chow, Mr. Layton's widow who was defeated by a Liberal in the Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York.

This was an election about change, and those can be difficult, she said. In 1993, when Canadians elected Liberals to get rid of the Conservatives, the New Democrats were left with nine MPs.

Gerry Caplan, who has managed NDP campaigns both federally and provincially, said Mr. Mulcair may not be cut the same slack as Mr. Layton because "Mulcair had this unanticipated, unprecedented expectation that he was going to win."

Watching the party fall so hard to Liberals was a "vast shock," said Mr. Caplan.

He said he suspects many in his party are conflicted, as he is, about Mr. Mulcair's decision to support a woman who wanted to wear an Islamic face covering as she swore her oath of citizenship to Canada. It may have been a principled stand, but it cost much support.

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And, he said, there is "a bit of dismay" about Mr. Mulcair's insistence on making a balanced budget a central point of the campaign. It is a neo-Liberal concept, he said, and "I think surprised a lot of people."

Lorne Nystrom, a former New Democrat MP who helped Mr. Mulcair win the party leadership, said there are many reasons for the NDP losses.

The Liberal brand is still strong, Justin Trudeau exceeded expectations, and the Liberals ran an excellent campaign, Mr. Nystrom said. In addition, he said, the NDP made some mistakes, including not letting Mr. Mulcair be himself.

"His handlers tried to low-key him too much. He was not the Tom we knew from Question Period [in the House of Commons], not the Tom I have known for 30 years," Mr. Nystrom. said

Mr. Nystrom said he believes New Democrats will give Mr. Mulcair a shot at another election, should he want one. "I would be shocked if that didn't happen. That's the NDP way. We don't tend to turn on our leaders."

But where does the party go from here?

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Peter Graefe, a political scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton and a fellow with the Broadbent Institute, which was founded by former party leader Ed Broadbent, said Monday's trouncing will require New Democrats to re-examine their fundamental strategy.

The goal of Mr. Layton and Mr. Broadbent was to replace the Liberals with the NDP. That now seems to be at a dead end, said Prof. Graefe.

"It was one thing for Layton to creep into Liberal space, to try to appeal to Liberal voters when it was the weakened Liberal Party of the sponsorship scandal, the Martin-Chrétien fight, and then fairly weak performances as leaders by Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff," he said. It's quite another, said Prof. Graefe, to try that when the Liberals are energized under someone who is youthful and popular.

On the other hand, he said, the party will have difficulty surviving if it has no chance of forming government because donations will dry up and, because of electoral reform, it can no longer rely on unions to be its financial backstop.

Mr. Caplan said it is clear that Monday's election results have put the NDP in a difficult position – a fact that will also play out in the Commons.

The NDP, he said, is seen as the conscience of Parliament and the party that puts ideas on the agenda. Under the Liberal majority, said Mr. Caplan, "it's not clear that we can do that. It's not clear that this government has to pay the slightest attention to the NDP."

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