Skip to main content

Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair greets supporters as he arrives to give his concession speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015.MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

Quebec's orange wave receded dramatically in 2015 as the NDP faced major Liberal gains throughout the province.

The Conservatives managed to maintain a presence in and around Quebec City, while the Bloc Québécois avoided political annihilation.

The province that has long had divided feelings over both federalism and the legacy of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has helped elect his son, Justin Trudeau, to a majority government.

Full coverage of Federal Election 2015

Quebec provided the Liberals with a strong base of support Monday, as it showed the door to dozens of rookie NDP MPs who failed to solidify the party's dramatic gains made in the province just four years ago.

The Quebec results followed dramatic losses for the NDP in Atlantic Canada, where the party was completely shut out of the region.

Losses included NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie in Halifax. Other veteran NDP MPs including Jack Harris and Robert Chisholm were also defeated as part of a Liberal sweep of Atlantic Canada.

The disappointment continued in Ontario, where the party saw star NDP candidates go down to defeat in Toronto, including Olivia Chow in Spadina-Fort York.

Quebec was the base of the NDP's rise in support in 2011 and the early results Monday evening are sure to be disappointing for the party. Pollsters had warned that the NDP's support in Quebec was too spread out across the province to hold on to many of its seats.

Based on preliminary results from late Monday night, the fortunes of the NDP and the Liberals in Quebec were poised to flip.

The NDP was running second in the province in terms of popular vote, yet the NDP, Conservatives and the Bloc were all well behind the Liberals in the provincial seat count.

Before he became NDP Leader, Tom Mulcair was the Quebec lieutenant to former leader Jack Layton and played a major role in building a base for the NDP in the province. In a 2007 byelection, he won the party's first seat in Quebec in years and set to work on building a presence for the party in a province where it had no historical roots and no provincial wing.

Mr. Layton's NDP made remarkable gains in 2011, winning 59 seats and 42.9 per cent of the vote, dislodging the Bloc Québécois party that had dominated the Quebec electoral map since 1993. The NDP's momentum under Mr. Layton elected MPs who were simply names on a ballot who did not campaign in the riding.

The party has worked hard in the four years since to establish a strong local presence in those ridings.

After Mr. Layton's death in August, 2011, Mr. Mulcair entered and ultimately won the party's March, 2012 leadership vote. He was widely regarded as a strong performer in the House of Commons, where as leader of the Official Opposition he had the lead role in questioning Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For the first month of the campaign, polls showed the NDP was essentially in a three-way tie for first place with the Conservatives and the Liberals. But polls also showed a strong desire among voters for change and a willingness of voters to switch their vote in order to defeat the Conservatives. That led to the clear possibility that either the NDP or Liberals could jump ahead at the other's expense if one could succeed in representing change.

The slide in NDP support during the campaign appeared to start in Quebec as the province became seized with the issue of the niqab.

The Conservatives announced in mid-September that they would appeal a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that struck down the Conservative ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

The Conservative government had previously commissioned a taxpayer-funded poll that found 82 per cent of Canadians supported a requirement that participants show their face during citizenship ceremonies. Both the Conservatives and the Bloc ran television ads highlighting the issue in Quebec as a way of shaking loose support for the NDP, which did not support the Conservative position.

Mr. Mulcair dismissed the issue as a distraction, but found himself having to defend his own position throughout the campaign.

As the controversy heated up in late September, Mr. Mulcair was asked whether he may come to regret being on the wrong side of public opinion on the niqab issue.

"I've taken positions in my life that weren't immediately appreciated – I'm willing to live with that," he said at the time.

Even though Mr. Trudeau had the same position on the niqab as the NDP, support for the Liberals in Quebec began to edge up at the expense of the NDP. The shift in Quebec hurt the NDP's national numbers as it faded from the race for first during the campaign, ultimately losing the role of Official Opposition to the Conservatives.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe