Frank Gunn / CP
From right, NDP leader Jack Layton, MP Olivia Chow and her mother, Ho Sze Chow, on election day.
Hey, it's not just the Harper Tories who have a Toronto problem.
If Jack Layton had snagged the PM's job after last week's election, he'd face a similar problem to Stephen Harper: the Tory leader has no Toronto MP to sit at the cabinet table, Layton only has one (other than himself).
While progressives pined for an NDP breakthrough in a city where local politics are dominated by the Dippers, the federal party arguably ran its best campaign in a couple of decades, except for one hitch: it all but ignored the biggest city in the country.
Okay, sure, the voter turnout was pukey, but while the NDP rejoices over its additional seats, fewer Canadians voted for the party last week than in the 2006 campaign.
In Toronto, the Conservatives more than doubled the NDP vote, and the Libs almost tripled it. In all, the NDP was able to capture only 15.1 per cent of the popular vote in the city.
Considering Layton is the most urban-?focused leader (as the former pres of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities), these results should ring alarm bells within the NDP brain trust. They are and they're not.
In the past, the NDP has forgone surer bets in Ontario's north for quixotic bids in the GTA. This time, they reversed course and bagged four extra seats in the northern Ontario, where Jack's "Kitchen Table, Working Families" shtick resonates.
While it sells well in hard-?done-?by areas across the country from small-town BC to Newfoundland, this year's NDP brand landed like a lead balloon in the T-dot. As one friend decreed as we were lacing up skates for our weekly game of shinny, "I don't know what ‘working families' is supposed to mean."
Me neither, but it did remind me that growing up in Scarborough, where my dad and all the other dads worked and moms stayed home, we were all "working families" - and we did sit around the kitchen table every day. Oh, and everyone in this mostly lower-?middle-?class 'hood was English-speaking and white. In other words, a Toronto that barely exists today.
This was not, says communications expert Greg Elmer of Ryerson U, an NDP campaign for the books. "The party's policies tend to be more urban-?friendly," he says, "but the message had nothing for urban singles, young people, young professionals or creative workers."
Elmer says the NDP's appeal is getting stale. "They have to start asking themselves, ‘How do people identify themselves in cities?' The language they are using isn't resonating with young people or new Canadians," he says. "Despite what looks like breakthroughs and a well-?run campaign, they aren't really expanding their core constituency."
Pollster Nik Nanos doesn't quite agree. "Everything is relative," he says. "Sure, it's a far cry from becoming the prime minister, but in a way, Layton may be very well positioned now."
While Canadians may not be ready to give Layton the keys to 24 Sussex, Nanos says they do want the NDP to be the party of the "big vision," especially in the now-?crowded left-of-centre space. "We haven't seen the definitive Jack vision of the country. Until he starts to articulate that, the current strategy won't replace the Liberals."
The NDP brain trust knows it has to do a rethink. After all, it's hard to imagine the Liberal party will ever be as weak as it was during the most recent election.
"All in all, that was a pretty good campaign,'' says NDP communications director Brad Lavigne. "But our performance in the Toronto area is going to be a huge priority for us now. Without the GTA and the 416, we won't get to the next level."
U of T political scientist Nelson Wiseman thinks Layton's campaign was actually historic. "At one point, they were tied in the polls with the Liberals. That's never happened in a campaign. Layton showed a lot of moxie, and they got the highest vote total since 1988. That's pretty good."
A big question arising from this election is whether the NDP or any party can craft a coherent message that can connect with both urban Toronto and the rest of the country.
The NDP clearly has some wind in its sails. But with fourth-place status in the 40th Parliament and only two seats in the 416, "pretty good" is starting to feel pretty old.