Island MPs poised for leadership role

NANAIMO – NDP will have to become voice for the West after winning all but one riding on Vancouver Island.

Canada’s 42nd general election Monday chalked up historic firsts for Canadian politics.

Never has a Canadian political party come from just 34 seats nationally to win a 184-seat majority and elect the son of a former prime minister to the office.

“To come from 34 seats to a majority is unheard of,” said Alexander Netherton, Vancouver Island University professor of political studies.

Netherton said Justin Trudeau, prime minister designate, defeated the Conservatives by running a positive “Obama-style” campaign that rejected fear-based politics and blew past the New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair’s campaign by taking a bold stance with economic policies.

Netherton noted Trudeau has also taken the approach to offer national leadership and innovation to deal with issues, such as pipelines, oil tankers, resource extraction and climate change, and will try to build consensus among diverse ideologies and stakeholders. In other words, Trudeau has worked to create a new political and ideological middle ground missing under Stephen Harper’s government.

That desire to work for consensus holds implications for elected NDP MPs, such as Sheila Malcolmson in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding.

The federal NDP lost a large number of seats to the Liberals and a chance to form Official Opposition, form government or even become part of a coalition government – all positions it had groomed itself to be going into the election.

“The NDP doesn’t get to form government, nor does it get to form a coalition with the Liberals,” Netherton said.

But, he said, Trudeau’s government promises to be less partisan than other governments. Trudeau also made big promises to B.C. on issues such as pipelines and transit and six out seven ridings on the Island are now held by NDP MPs, which leaves the NDP caucus, Malcolmson included, in two interesting positions.

“One, they will be leaders in the NDP,” Nertherton said. “The people who were elected here will end up, by default, having to be nationally prominent, because they are the voices of the west, so they have to live up to that.”

Second, the NDP could have greater influence in future governments under a proportional voting system.

“The Liberals have promised to reform the electoral system, so that changes the equation,” Netherton said. “That makes this NDP team here less insecure than they would be otherwise. Unless the Trudeau government really blows it, I think the structure of competition will be much different and I think we’ve accepted a multi-party system.”