The New Democratic Party has always seen itself as the traditional party of the people: the champion of workers, young people and pensioners. Their newly announced campaign platform, dubbed the New Deal for People shows they plan to double down on this narrative in the upcoming campaign, by harkening back to U.S. President Roosevelt’s post-war reconstruction plan, with shades of ideas put forward by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.
It contains promises meant to appeal to these groups: a comprehensive pharmacare plan, a promise to implement a ban on single-use plastics by 2022, and a promise to lower the cost of cell phone and Internet plans.
Yet, while the substance seems likely to attract these voters, the overall tone of Jagmeet Singh’s campaign so far may end up turning them off.
In his first campaign video, ostensibly about his commitments to Canadians, Singh spends the first third of the video attacking Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives and Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.
Given that the Liberals have politically stolen some of the NDP’s thunder by announcing their plans for a single-use plastics ban, and the Liberal-appointed Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare has recommended universal pharmacare, it is understandable that Singh is trying to make a clear delineation with Trudeau’s Liberals.
Fortunately, there is still time for a campaign refresh. If the NDP wants to have a strong showing in October, they will need to focus their efforts in the following areas:
Showing they are the party to fight climate change
The environment is a key election issue this year. In the age of school strikes for climate change, younger voters want politicians to take a stance and to be authentic in their fight against climate change. They will be looking for bold visions that recognize the extent of the problem. While their plan for climate action has several strong initiatives, including their plan for high-speed trains, the NDP will have to work harder to translate their plans into simple, bold language to fend off losing younger voters to the Green Party.
Connecting with new voters
Even though the 2015 election had the highest turn-out since 1993, more than 30 per cent of eligible voters still did not cast a ballot. That means there is plenty of room to grow. Evidence shows that negative campaigns turn people off completely. Instead, Singh and the NDP should be emphasizing that change is possible and within reach. Then he needs to walk the talk. In the age of polarized public discourse, authenticity is the key to connecting with voters.
Delivering a strong vision
The NDP campaign commitments include a litany of big-idea promises including having free post-secondary education and free public transit. The next step to convince voters that these ideas are possible is to have a clear strategy that lays out a plan for implantation. Having now formed government in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Yukon, the NDP can make a strong case that it is ready to govern, but will need to make sure voters understand its vision.