New Democratic Party
The New Democratic Party (NDP; French: Nouveau Parti démocratique, NPD) is a social democratic federal political party in Canada. The party was founded in 1961 by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). On the political spectrum, the party sits to the left of the Liberal Party. The federal and provincial (or territorial) level NDPs are more integrated than other political parties in Canada, and have shared membership (except for the New Democratic Party of Quebec).
The NDP has never won the largest share of seats at the federal level. From 2011 to 2015 it formed the Official Opposition, but it is typically the third or fourth-largest party in the House of Commons. However, the party has held influence during periods of minority governments. Provincial branches of the NDP have formed the government in six provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia) and the territory of Yukon.
Since 2017, the NDP has been led by Jagmeet Singh, who is the first Indo-Canadian to lead a major federal party in Canada. Following the 2019 Canadian federal election, it is currently the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons with 24 seats.
In 1956, after the birth of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) by a merger of two previous labour congresses, negotiations began between the CLC and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to bring about an alliance between organized labour and the political left in Canada. In 1958 a joint CCF-CLC committee, the National Committee for the New Party (NCNP), was formed to create a "new" social democratic political party, with ten members from each group. The NCNP spent the next three years laying down the foundations of the New Party. During this process, a large number of New Party Clubs were established to allow like-minded Canadians to join in its founding, and six representatives from New Party Clubs were added to the National Committee. In 1961, at the end of a five-day long Founding Convention which established its principles, policies and structures, the New Democratic Party was born and Tommy Douglas, the long-time CCF Premier of Saskatchewan, was elected its first leader. In 1960, before the NDP was founded, one candidate, Walter Pitman, won a by-election under the New Party banner.
The influence of organized labour on the party is still reflected in the party's conventions as affiliated trade unions send delegates on a formula based on their number of members. Since approximately one-quarter of the convention delegates have recently been from affiliated labour groups, after the party changed to a one member, one vote method of electing leaders in leadership races, labour delegate votes are scaled to 25% of the total number of ballots cast for leader.
At the 1971 leadership convention, an activist group called The Waffle tried to take control of the party, but were defeated by David Lewis with the help of the union members. The following year, most of The Waffle split from the NDP and formed their own party. The NDP itself supported the minority government formed by the Pierre Trudeau–led Liberals from 1972 to 1974, although the two parties never entered into a coalition. Together, they succeeded in passing several socially progressive initiatives into law such as pension indexing and the creation of the crown corporation Petro-Canada.
In 1974, the NDP worked with the Progressive Conservatives to pass a motion of non-confidence, forcing an election. However, it backfired as Trudeau's Liberals regained a majority government, mostly at the expense of the NDP, which lost half its seats. Lewis lost his own riding and resigned as leader the following year.
Under the leadership of Ed Broadbent (1975–1989), the NDP attempted to find a more populist image to contrast with the governing parties, focusing on more pocketbook issues than on ideological fervour. The party played a critical role during Joe Clark's minority government of 1979–1980, moving the non-confidence motion on John Crosbie's 1979 budget that brought down the Progressive Conservative government, and forced the election that brought Trudeau's Liberal Party back to power.
The result in 1980 created two unexpected results for the party: The first was an offer by Trudeau to form a coalition government to allow for greater Western representation in Cabinet and a "united front" regarding the upcoming Quebec referendum. Broadbent, aware that the NDP would have no ability to hold the balance of power and thus no leverage in the government, declined out of fear the party would be subsumed.
The second was Trudeau's Canada Bill to patriate the Constitution of Canada unilaterally and to bring about what would become the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Broadbent endorsed the initiative, which was directly opposed by the NDP government of Saskatchewan and many of the party's Western parties and members, creating severe internal tension. Broadbent would act as a moderating influence on Trudeau during the debates, and the eventual compromise that brought about the Constitution Act, 1982 was partially authored by Saskatchewan NDP Attorney General and future premier Roy Romanow.
In the 1984 election, which saw the Progressive Conservatives win the most seats in Canadian history, the NDP won 30 seats, while the governing Liberals fell to 40 seats. Struggles within the governing Progressive Conservatives and opposition Liberals would see dramatic rise in the NDP's polling fortunes.
The NDP set a then-record of 43 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the house in the election of 1988. The Liberals, however, had reaped most of the benefits of opposing free trade to emerge as the dominant alternative to the ruling government. In 1989, Broadbent stepped down after 14 years as federal leader of the NDP.
At the party's leadership convention in 1989, former B.C. Premier Dave Barrett and Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin were the main contenders for the leadership. During the campaign, Barrett argued that the party should be concerned with western alienation, rather than focusing its attention on Quebec. The Quebec wing of the NDP strongly opposed Barrett's candidacy, with Phil Edmonston, the party's main spokesman in Quebec, threatening to resign from the party if Barrett won. McLaughlin ran on a more traditional approach, and became the first woman to lead a major Federal political party in Canada.
Although enjoying strong support among organized labour and rural voters in the Prairies, McLaughlin tried to expand their support into Quebec without much success. In 1989, the New Democratic Party of Quebec adopted a sovereigntist platform and severed its ties with the federal NDP. Under McLaughlin, the party did manage to win an election in Quebec for the first time when Edmonston won a 1990 by-election.
The NDP chose to align itself with the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals on the "yes" side of the Charlottetown Accord referendum in 1992. Barrett reluctantly endorsed it to comply with party policy (he opposed the Meech Lake Accord in 1987), but later referred to the NDP's support for the Accord as a mistake. Edmonston, a Quebec nationalist, frequently clashed with his own party over this position on Canadian federalism, and did not run for re-election.
McLaughlin and the NDP were routed in the 1993 election, where the party won only nine seats, three seats short of official party status in the House of Commons. The loss was blamed on the unpopularity of NDP provincial governments under Bob Rae in Ontario and Mike Harcourt in British Columbia and the loss of a significant portion of the Western vote to the Reform Party, which promised a more decentralized and democratic federation along with right-wing economic reforms.
McLaughlin resigned in 1995 and was succeeded by Alexa McDonough, the former leader of the Nova Scotia NDP. In contrast to traditional Canadian practice, where an MP for a safe seat stands down to allow a newly elected leader a chance to enter Parliament via a by-election, McDonough opted to wait until the next election to enter Parliament.
The party recovered somewhat in the 1997 election, electing 21 members. The NDP made a breakthrough in Atlantic Canada, a region where they had been practically nonexistent at the federal level. Before 1997, they had won only three seats in the Atlantic in their entire history. However, in 1997 they won eight seats in that region, in the process unseating Liberal ministers David Dingwall and Doug Young. The party was able to harness the discontent of voters in the Atlantic, who were upset over cuts to employment insurance and other social programs.
Afterwards, McDonough was widely perceived as trying to move the party toward the centre of the political spectrum, in the Third Way mould of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Union leaders were lukewarm in their support, often threatening to break away from the NDP, while Canadian Auto Workers head Buzz Hargrove called for her resignation. MPs Rick Laliberté and Angela Vautour crossed the floor to other parties during this term, to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives respectively, reducing the NDP caucus to 19 seats.
In the November 2000 election, the NDP campaigned primarily on the issue of Medicare but lost significant support. The governing Liberals ran an effective campaign on their economic record and managed to recapture some of the Atlantic ridings lost to the NDP in the 1997 election. The initial high electoral prospects of the Canadian Alliance under new leader Stockwell Day also hurt the NDP as many supporters strategically voted Liberal to keep the Alliance from winning. The NDP finished with 13 MPs—just barely over the threshold for official party status.
The party embarked on a renewal process starting in 2000. A general convention in Winnipeg in November 2001 made significant alterations to party structures, and reaffirmed its commitment to the left. In the May 2002 by-elections, Brian Masse won the riding of Windsor West, Ontario, previously held for decades by a Liberal, former Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.
McDonough announced her resignation as party leader for family reasons in June 2002 (effective upon her successor's election), and was succeeded by Jack Layton in January 2003. A Toronto city councillor and recent President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Layton was elected at the party's leadership election in Toronto on January 25, 2003, defeating his nearest rival, longtime Winnipeg-area MP Bill Blaikie, on the first ballot with 53.5% of the vote.
Layton had run unsuccessfully for the Commons three times in Toronto-area ridings. Like McDonough before him, Layton did not contest a seat in Parliament until the 2004 election. In the interim, he appointed Blaikie as deputy leader and made him parliamentary leader of the NDP.
The 2004 election produced mixed results for the NDP. It increased its total vote by more than a million votes; however, despite Layton's optimistic predictions of reaching 40 seats, the NDP only gained five seats in the election, for a total of 19. The party was disappointed to see its two Saskatchewan incumbents defeated in close races by the new Conservative Party (created by merger of the Alliance and PC parties), perhaps because of the unpopularity of the NDP provincial government. Those losses caused the federal NDP to be shut out in Saskatchewan for the first time since the 1965 election, despite obtaining 23% of the vote in the province.
Exit polls indicated that many NDP supporters voted Liberal to keep the new Conservative Party of Canada from winning. The Liberals had recruited several prominent NDP members, most notably former British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, to run as Liberals as part of a drive to convince NDP voters that a reunited Conservative Party could sneak up the middle in the event of a split in the centre-left vote.
The Liberals were re-elected, though this time as a minority government. Combined, the Liberals and NDP had 154 seats – one short of the total needed for the balance of power. As has been the case with Liberal minorities in the past, the NDP were in a position to make gains on the party's priorities, such as fighting health care privatization, fulfilling Canada's obligation to the Kyoto Protocol, and electoral reform.
The party used Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's politically precarious position caused by the sponsorship scandal to force investment in several federal programs, agreeing not to help topple the government provided that some major concessions in the federal budget were made. The governing Liberals agreed to support the changes in exchange for NDP support on confidence votes. On May 19, 2005, by Speaker Peter Milliken's tie-breaking vote, the House of Commons voted for second reading on major NDP amendments to the federal budget, preempting about $4.5 billion in corporate tax cuts and funding social, educational and environmental programs instead. NDP supporters and Conservative opponents of the measures branded it Canada's first "NDP budget". In late June, the amendments passed final reading and many political pundits concluded that the NDP had gained credibility and clout on the national scene.
On November 9, 2005, after the findings of the Gomery Inquiry were released, Layton notified the Liberal government that continued NDP support would require a ban on private healthcare. When the Liberals refused, Layton announced that he would introduce a motion on November 24 that would ask Martin to call a federal election in February to allow for several pieces of legislation to be passed. The Liberals turned down this offer. On November 28, 2005, Conservative leader Stephen Harper's motion of no confidence was seconded by Layton and it was passed by all three opposition parties, forcing an election. Columnist Andrew Coyne has suggested that the NDP was unlikely to receive much credit for continuing to further prop up the Liberals, so they ended their support for the Martin government.
During the election, the NDP focused their attacks on the Liberal party, in order to counter Liberal appeals for strategic voting. A key point in the campaign was when Judy Wasylycia-Leis had asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to launch a criminal investigation into the leaking of the income trust announcement. The criminal probe seriously damaged the Liberal campaign and prevented them from making their key policy announcements, as well as bringing Liberal corruption back into the spotlight. After the election, the RCMP announced the conclusion of the income trust investigation and laid charges of criminal breach of trust against Serge Nadeau, an official in the Department of Finance, while finance minister Ralph Goodale was cleared of wrongdoing.
The NDP campaign strategy put them at odds with Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). The CAW had supported an NDP-backed Liberal minority government and consequently, backed only NDP candidates that the Liberal Party believed had a chance of winning. After the campaign, the Ontario NDP expelled CAW leader Buzz Hargrove from the party (which has a common membership both federally and provincially, see below) for his support of the Liberals.
On January 23, the NDP won 29 seats, a significant increase of 10 seats from the 19 won in 2004. It was the fourth-best performance in party history, approaching the level of popular support enjoyed in the 1980s. The NDP kept all of the 18 seats it held at the dissolution of Parliament (Paul Dewar retained the riding of Ottawa Centre vacated by Broadbent). Bev Desjarlais, an NDP MP since 1997, unsuccessfully ran as an independent in her Churchill riding after losing the NDP nomination. While the party gained no seats in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, or the Prairie provinces, it gained five seats in British Columbia, five more in Ontario and the Western Arctic riding of the Northwest Territories.
The Conservatives won a minority government in the 2006 election, and initially the NDP was the only party that would not be able to pass legislation with the Conservatives. However, following a series of floor crossings, the NDP also came to hold the balance of power.
The NDP voted against the government in all four confidence votes in the 39th parliament, the only party to do so. These were votes on the United States-Canada softwood lumber dispute, extending the mission to Afghanistan, the 2006 Canadian federal budget and 2007 federal budget. However, it worked with the Conservatives on other issues. After forcing the Conservatives to agree to certain revisions, the NDP helped pass the Accountability Act. After the NDP fiercely criticized the initial Conservative attempt at a Clean Air Act, the Conservatives agreed to work with the NDP and other parties to revise the legislation. The NDP also supported the government in introducing regulations on income trusts, fearing that trends toward mass trust conversions by large corporations to avoid Canadian income taxes would cause the loss of billions of dollars in budget revenue to support health care, pensions and other federal programs. At the same time, the NDP was also wary of the threat of investor losses from income trusts' exaggerated performance expectations.
Since that election, the NDP caucus rose to 30 members following the victory of NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair in a by-election in Outremont. This marked the second time ever (and first time in seventeen years) that the NDP won a riding in Quebec. The party won 37 seats in the 2008 federal election, the best performance since the 1988 federal election total of 43.
In the 2011 federal election the NDP won a record 103 seats, becoming the Official Opposition for the first time in the party's history. The party had a historic breakthrough in Quebec, where they won 59 out of 75 seats. This meant that a majority of the party's MPs now came from a province where they had only ever had two candidates elected in the party's history (Thomas Mulcair and Phil Edmonston, and not concurrently) and had not been fully organized since 1990 (see below). The NDP's success in Quebec was mirrored by the collapse of the Bloc Québécois, which lost all but four of its 47 seats, and the collapse of the Liberal Party nationally, which was cut down to just 34 seats, its worst-ever result. This also marked the first time in history where the Liberal Party was neither the government nor the Official Opposition, as the NDP had taken over the latter role.
Jack Layton's performance on the French-language talk show Tout le monde en parle on April 3 was credited for improving his party's standing among francophone voters; it is the most widely watched TV show in Quebec. He was also perceived to have performed well in the televised French-language party leaders' debate on April 13.
The NDP held or won seats in every province but Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island, and also held the Western Arctic riding coextensive with the Northwest Territories. It got more than the 10% threshold required for reimbursement of campaign expenses in all but two ridings in the country, an unprecedented result for the party.
In July 2011, Layton announced that he was suffering from a new cancer and would take a leave of absence, projected to last until the resumption of Parliament in September. He would retain his position of NDP Leader and Leader of the Opposition. The party confirmed his suggestion of Hull—Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel to carry out the functions of party leader in his absence. Layton died from his cancer on August 22, 2011. In his final letter, Layton called for a leadership election to be held in early 2012 to choose his successor, which was held on March 24, 2012, and elected new leader Thomas Mulcair.
Despite early campaign polls which showed an NDP lead, the party lost 59 seats on election night and fell back to third place in Parliament. By winning 44 seats Mulcair was able to secure the second best showing in the party's history, winning one more seat than Ed Broadbent managed in the 1988 election, but with a smaller share of the popular vote.
During the election campaign, Mulcair's stance on the niqab issue contributed to a decline in the party's support in Quebec; NDP seat gains in Saskatchewan and British Columbia were offset by numerical losses in almost every other region, while in Alberta and Manitoba the party simply held on to its existing seats without gaining or losing. The party was locked out of the Atlantic Region and the Territories, and lost over half of its seats in Ontario including all of its seats in Toronto. In Quebec the NDP lost seats to all three of the other major parties, namely the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Québécois, though it managed to place second in both vote share (25.4%) and seats (16) behind the Liberals, who formed a majority government.
Mulcair's leadership faced criticism following the election, particularly due to a moderate platform that the party was running on and Mulcair's promise to balance the federal budget while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was promising to run a budget deficit in order to fund stimulus programs and higher social spending, a position which was perceived as allowing the Liberals to outflank the NDP on the left. Mulcair lost a leadership review vote held at the NDP's policy convention in Edmonton, Alberta on April 10, 2016. Consequently, his successor was to be chosen at a leadership election to be held no later than October 2017 (Mulcair agreed to remain as leader until then).
On October 1, 2017, Jagmeet Singh, the first person of a visible minority group to lead a major Canadian federal political party on a permanent basis, won the leadership vote to head the NDP on the first ballot.
The NDP entered the campaign for the 2019 federal election with polling that suggested it was at risk of losing official party status, and even possibly being eclipsed by the Green Party, having already lost the riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith to Green candidate Paul Manly in a by-election. This followed a by-election loss to the Liberals in Mulcair's vacated seat of Outremont, with most polls showing the NDP was vulnerable to a wipe out in Quebec.
Singh was widely credited to have performed well in the English language debate on October 7, improving the poll numbers for both himself and his party. This followed positive coverage of his campaign, especially with regard to his handling of racial issues, when compared to the other party leaders.
Despite this late campaign momentum, the NDP would lose 15 seats for its worst result since 2004, winning in only 24 ridings. Deputy leader and Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice was the only NDP incumbent to retain his seat in Quebec, while fellow deputy leader Sheri Benson lost her riding of Saskatoon West to the Conservatives as part of their wider sweep of Saskatchewan. The NDP was able to retain its seat of Edmonton Strathcona, the only riding in Alberta and one of the few in the Canadian Prairies not to go Conservative. The party remained shut out of Toronto, and lost two of its incumbents in the rest of Ontario, while making a few single digit gains in Manitoba, Newfoundland, and Nunavut. In British Columbia the NDP lost three seats but were largely able hold onto their support in the province, preventing any further gains for the Greens on Vancouver Island.
On June 17, 2020, Singh was ordered to withdraw from the House of Commons for the rest of the day after refusing to apologize after calling a Bloc Québécois MP "racist" after the NDP motion on RCMP discrimination failed to receive unanimous consent from the House of Commons.
The NDP evolved in 1961 from a merger of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). The CCF grew from populist, agrarian and socialist roots into a modern social democratic party. Although the CCF was part of the Christian left and the Social Gospel movement, the NDP is secular and pluralistic. It has broadened to include concerns of the New Left, and advocates issues such as LGBT rights, international peace, and environmental stewardship.
The NDP's constitution states that both social democracy and democratic socialism are influences on the party. Specific inclusion of the party's history as the continuation of the more radical Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and specific identification of the "democratic socialist" tradition as a continuing influence on the party are part of the language of the preamble to the party's constitution:
New Democrats are proud of our political and activist heritage, and our long record of visionary, practical, and successful governments. That heritage and that record have distinguished and inspired our party since the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933 and the founding of the New Democratic Party in 1961. New Democrats seek a future that brings together the best of the insights and objectives of Canadians who, within the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, have worked through farmer, labour, co-operative, feminist, human rights and environmental movements, and with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, to build a more just, equal, and sustainable Canada within a global community dedicated to the same goals.
The NDP states that it is committed to public health care. The party states that it fights for "a national, universal, public pharmacare program to make sure that all Canadians can access the prescription medicine they need with their health card, not their credit card – saving money and improving health outcomes for everyone". The party also states its support for expanding services covered under the national health care system to include dental care, mental health care, eye and hearing care, infertility procedures, and prescription drugs. Regarding dentistry, the NDP notes that "one in three Canadians has no dental insurance and over six million people don't visit the dentist every year because they can't afford to. Too many people are forced to go without the care they need until the pain is so severe that they are forced to seek relief in hospital emergency rooms".
Since its formation, the party has had a presence in the House of Commons. It was the third largest political party from 1965 to 1993, when the party dropped to fourth and lost official party status. The NDP's peak period of policy influence in those periods was during the minority Liberal governments of Lester B. Pearson (1963–68) and Pierre Trudeau (1972–74). The NDP regained official status in 1997, and played a similar role in the Liberal and Conservative minority governments of 2004–2006 and 2006–2011, respectively. Following the 2011 election, the party became the second-largest party and formed the Official Opposition in the 41st Canadian Parliament.
Provincial New Democratic parties, which are organizationally sections of the federal party, have governed in six of the ten provinces and a territory. The NDP governs the province of British Columbia, forms the Official Opposition in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, and have sitting members in every provincial legislature except those of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The NDP has previously formed the government in the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and the Yukon Territory. The NDP has previously had at least one sitting member in every provincial legislature except that of Quebec.
While members of the party are active in municipal politics, the party does not organize at that level. For example, though former Toronto mayor David Miller was an NDP member during his successful 2003 and 2006 mayoral campaigns, his campaigns were not affiliated with the NDP.
Unlike most other Canadian parties, the NDP is integrated with its provincial and territorial parties. Holding membership of a provincial or territorial section of the NDP includes automatic membership in the federal party, and this precludes a person from supporting different parties at the federal and provincial levels. Membership lists are maintained by the provinces and territories.
There have been three exceptions: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec. In Nunavut and in the Northwest Territories, whose territorial legislatures have non-partisan consensus governments, the federal NDP is promoted by its riding associations, since each territory is composed of only one federal riding.
In Quebec, the historical New Democratic Party of Quebec and the federal NDP agreed in 1989 to sever their structural ties after the Quebec party adopted the sovereigntist platform. From that time the federal NDP was not integrated with a provincial party in that province; instead, it had a section, the Nouveau Parti démocratique-Section Québec/New Democratic Party Quebec Section, whose activities in the province were limited to the federal level, whereas on the provincial level its members were individually free to support or adhere to any party. However, following the 2011 election, it was announced the NDP planned on recreating a provincial party in Quebec in time for the following Quebec general election. While the party was registered with the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec, it failed to nominate any candidates. The federal NDP restarted the Quebec party before the 2014 general election; a modern party was registered on January 30, 2014, as Nouveau Parti démocratique du Québec, although it is not affiliated to the federal NDP due to provincial laws in Quebec which disallow provincial parties from affiliating with federal parties. The modern party was registered on 30 January 2014.
From 1963 to 1994 there was a New Democratic Party of Quebec, which split from the party over issues of Quebec sovereignty and after several mergers with other left-wing parties formed Québec solidaire in 2006.
The most successful provincial section of the party has been the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, which first came to power in 1944 as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation under Tommy Douglas and has won most of the province's elections since then. In Canada, Douglas is often cited as the Father of Medicare since, as Saskatchewan Premier, he introduced Canada's first publicly funded, universal healthcare system to the province. Despite the historic success of the Saskatchewan branch of the party, the NDP was shut out of Saskatchewan for the 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011 federal elections, before winning three seats there in the 2015 federal election. The NDP would once again be shut out of Saskatchewan as part of the Conservatives sweep of the province in the 2019 election.
Historically, the New Democratic Party has also formed government in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and in Yukon.
The party president is the administrative chairperson of the party, chairing party conventions, councils and executive meetings.