On the NDP & Dominic Cardy

Yesterday, The SUN’s Ottawa Bureau Chief David Akin made the completely serious suggestion that New Brunswick NDP Leader Dominic Cardy should enter the race to be the next leader of the Federal NDP following the vote Sunday to cast aside Thomas Mulcair. The vote, along with the approval of the Leap Manifesto, was a clear swing to the left for the Federal NDP following the blitzkreig that was their 2015 election.

Cardy’s resume is surely fine enough but he has never been successful in winning a seat. Cardy is also too far to the right of the spectrum politically for where the NDP are aiming. Mulcair found them no votes in the centre and lost a lot elsewhere in the process. Similarly, Cardy has found some votes for the NDP in the centre in NB but it hasn’t been concentrated enough to win a seat.

So nevermind Cardy running for the Federal NDP Leadership – what does he need to do to win a seat in the New Brunswick Legislature? What riding would this be? First we need to take a look at what he’s working with.

The NDP have been NB’s historic third party. In their history, founded as a continuation of the Federal CCF in 1933 and becoming today’s NDP in 1962, they have never elected more than one member to the legislature at any given time. In total they’ve had three different members in the legislature, most notably Elizabeth Weir. Weir was elected four times in Saint John South/Saint John Harbour between 1991 and 2003, sitting from 1991 until 2005.

As arguably the strongest and most influential NDP member in New Brunswick history she barely won her 1991 bid; winning by 89 votes over Liberal incumbent John Mooney. Election 1995 saw her margin of victory widen to just under 1,000 votes. Election 1999 was a 1,000+ margin, with  Election 2003 being a whopping 1,700 vote margin between her and her nearest competitor. The PC and Liberal runners could have combined their vote totals and still would have fallen short of victory in that contest. In the end, Weir lead the party for 17 years from 1988 to 2005, failing to have any NDP members elected to the legislature besides herself. During her tenure as leader the NDP’s strongest consistent base was the Saint John area surrounding her riding – in 2003 the party attained 17.2% of the Greater Saint John vote. The NDP could barely muster the occasional second place finish and never really challenged for a seat anywhere else in the province.

The post-Weir NDP saw Allison Brewer become leader, placing a distant third in Fredericton-Lincoln whilst Roger Duguay finished a respectable third in Miramichi Bay-Neguac in 2006. By the 2010 election Duguay had become leader, and the Northeast became the NDP’s strongest vote-getting region. Duguay managed second in his riding in 2010 but still lost by more than 1,300 votes. There were respectable showings in Saint John but these results and others can be seen mostly as a result of dissatisfied Liberals attempting to escape the Shawn Graham regime.

By 2014 Dominic Cardy had become leader, shifting the support base away from the Northeast and towards Fredericton. In this election the NDP netted 12.98% of the total Provincial vote – the strongest result in their history. Cardy lost his riding by 400 votes in a three-way race in Fredericton West-Hanwell, meaning the NDP would be unrepresented in the Legislature for the third consecutive election.

It’s clear that NDP support floats around the province following its leader depending on the election. As of this writing Cardy is still leader; the stability of which should benefit the party if they plan on centralizing their campaign in the next election. In 2014 they ran an above-average Provincial campaign but failed to do well enough in any particular riding to gain a seat. This is compared to the Greens who piled on to David Coon’s campaign in Fredericton South: Despite receiving less than half of the total votes of the NDP provincially the Greens won a seat and would be represented in the Legislature.

The lesson here is that if parties are to be represented they must have good provincial optics but must also balance strong regional and local campaigns. Although NDP results have come with their leaders they haven’t been strong enough to warrant being elected; this could change in the future. Cardy’s choice of riding in 2014 was intriguing, as he was up against a strong PC incumbent in Brian Macdonald (now in the PC Leadership Race)…had he chosen a different riding (perhaps even a different Fredericton riding) he could have won and been in the legislature.

So where do the NDP go from here? For starters Cardy, who has seemingly escaped the fate that Mulcair found himself in federally, will have to run in a riding where the NDP have done historically well and try his best to not run against an experienced and strong opponent. Perhaps the best riding for Cardy to run in in 2018 would be Hampton. There are a couple things to support this:

  1. – The NDP finished second in Hampton in 2014 with candidate Bev Harrison
    (ex-PC incumbent) receiving 25.97% of the vote. The former riding of
    Hampton-Kings gave the NDP 15.94% and 12.83% in 2010 and 2006
    respectively; good totals for them.
  2. – Hampton swallowed up parts of the old Saint John East and Saint John
    Fundy ridings for the 2014 election following riding redistribution. The
    area moved from Saint John Fundy, in particular, voted over 30% for the
    NDP/Harrison in 2014 (the Red Head and Garnett Settlement areas).
  3. – Cardy ran in a byelection in Saint John East shortly after the 2014
    election –  triggered when Liberal incumbent Gary Keating decided politics wasn’t his
    thing immediately after winning the riding. Cardy managed to win 21.88% of
    the vote in this byelection and should already have some exposure and name
    recognition in the area.
  4. – Likewise, Cardy also ran in Rothesay in a 2012 byelection, receiving
    27.27% of the vote.

Depending on if Harrison wants to run again in Hampton it would seem a reasonable riding for the NDP to target with or without Cardy.

The Fredericton Silverwood riding, which became part of the new Fredericton West-Hanwell riding where Cardy ran his full campaign in 2014, did vote 16.08% for the NDP in 2010, which was a good base for the NDP and Cardy to build off of. However, PC Brian Macdonald was the incumbent and is popular in the area – this decision to run against him likely cost Cardy a seat in the legislature.

Saint John Harbour is another possible landing point for Cardy to look for a seat in the legislature. Harbour was former leader Elizabeth Weir’s seat but since her departure the NDP’s popular vote percentage has fallen in the riding from Weir’s 43.39% in 2003 to 17.13% (2005BY), 12.38% (2006), 27.69% (2010), and 21.39% in 2014.

The issue for the NDP and Cardy is that Saint John Harbour is a bit of a crowded house and Cardy would be wise to avoid it. Rumours of soon-to-be-former Saint John mayor Mel Norton’s run for the PCs would likely have him running in Harbour against Liberal incumbent Ed Doherty with little room for Cardy to gain much traction. There is also the risk of former NDP candidate Wayne Dryer running again for the Greens as he did in 2014. Dryer garnered the highest vote % for the NDP in Harbour since Weir’s departure and in 2014 garnered the Greens highest vote % in Harbour at 13%.

(It’s worth noting that the Greens finished second in voting in the South End portion of this Harbour riding and third in the ‘Uptown’ area, which i’ll certainly touch on in a future post.)

Outside of Hampton and Harbour, Fredericton is likely still Cardy’s best bet, whether in West-Hanwell again or elsewhere. Fredericton North? Fredericton -York? Cardy’s optics of bouncing around and parachuting into byelections around the province shows desperation at an attempt to win a seat. If the NDP were wise they would plant Cardy in a riding for years, and years, and have him build up enough of a base to make a serious charge at running a strong, centralized campaign. Just don’t pick a riding with a strong incumbent (and potential party leader) in the future.


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