One of the growing stories of this federal election is the rise in support for the New Democratic Party in Quebec. Traditionally a non-entity in the province, most polls now show the social democratic party neck and neck with the other federalist parties. Some recent polls are even showing the NDP in second place, behind the Bloc. Of course, as politicians are fond of saying, the only poll that matters is the one that happens on election day. The NDP’s support is relatively uncommitted and given the fact that it isn’t geographically concentrated, even a big increase in votes risks to translate into only one or two new seats. Despite these caveats, this new dynamic adds a bit of interest to what would otherwise be a lacklustre, predictable, campaign.
But the possible rise of the NDP is also good news for Montreal, regardless of one’s views on the party’s policies. The latest EKOS poll, released on April 15th, shows the NDP at 23.7% in the province, an historic high. The poll also breaks down the results on a metropolitan basis and looking at Montreal provides quite a shock, with the NDP actually leading in the region:
Again, there’s no guarantee that this is what the votes cast on May 2nd will be (it also has a margin of error of 9.4%), but it hints at a possible realignment that could propel Montreal to much greater prominence in federal politics. Montreal’s issues have often been underrepresented for the simple reason that most of the island’s ridings are strongholds for one party or the other. The West votes Liberal, the East votes Bloc and a few ridings in the middle could go either way. And moreover, winning those few swing ridings has normally been a question of which party better mobilises its base and gets out the vote, rather than convincing undecided voters.
As a result, the parties have been loathe to offer goodies to Montreal in the same way they do to, say, Quebec City or the Toronto suburbs. What’s the use if half of the population will vote for you no matter what and the other half will never vote for you? This is all the more the case with our first-past-the-post system which masks shifts in support as long as it’s the same party that ends up on the top of the pile.
But now there seems to be a growing depolarisation as left-leaning federalists and left-leaning soft-nationalists start to drift away from their traditional parties and throw their support to the NDP. Once a city of safe seats, Montreal could be transformed into a battleground region, with a number of three way races. And just as important, a region where voters need to be actively courted and not just mobilised based on their stance on the national question. Winning over these voters would take talking about Montreal issues and making promises that speak to Montrealers. This is something that everyone here would benefit from.
At this point it’s too early to say whether people are just parking their vote with the NDP, or if there is a real realignment that is taking place. Moreover, even if the party does score 30%, if its votes are spread evenly across the city that could simply mean a respectable second place behind the Liberals in West-End ridings and the Bloc in East-End ridings, but no new seats. And it also wouldn’t do anything to change the fact that the Conservatives have chosen to run an anti-Montreal campaign based on city/rural antagonism to gain seats in the regions. But we can still hope that it’s the beginning of a greater importance for Montreal on the federal scene.