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Stealing page from Liberals, NDP targets women in homestretch

NDP Leader Jack Layton is greeted by supporters at a campaign rally at Ecole secondaire du Versant in Gatineau, Que.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

If the NDP is really going to displace the Liberals as the main opposition party, they're going to have to dip into the Grits' old bag of tricks. Jack Layton has started to do a little of that with a last-week appeal to female voters.

In recent elections, the Liberals have often targeted women with TV ads and rhetoric in the last week of election campaigns, knowing that polling research has consistently shown many lean left but only commit to their ballot choice not long before voting day.

Now Mr. Layton, riding an orange wave that sees him vying with the Liberals for second place in the polls, is employing the late-campaign tactic that Liberal leaders have often used to try to seal up votes in the last days: an appeal to women to commit.

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In Gatineau, Que., Monday night, Mr. Layton made the direct appeal for left-leaning votes with blasts at Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, but no mention of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

"You want the cause of Canadian women to make real progress, but with Stephen Harper, the cause of Canadian women has lost ground," he told about 300 supporters at the Gatineau rally - a respectable Quebec turnout for the NDP past, but not especially convincing for a party on a roll.

The speech wasn't so far in tone and style from Mr. Layton's usual stump speech, but the content was heavily aimed at women, wrapping together the promises from his already-released platform.

The NDP, he promised, would reverse Mr. Harper's "attack on pay equity," improve employment-insurance maternity-benefit rules, reverse Conservative cuts to women's rights groups, make women's shelters more accessible, and increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors - because half of single women over 65 live beneath the poverty line. "In the Prime Minister's Office," he warned darkly," they're still questioning a woman's right to choose."

The reference to pay equity was a natural topic for the location: in Gatineau, many women work as federal civil servants, and Mr. Layton was introduced by two female candidates who have a sold chance of winning seats in Quebec, former Liberal MP Françoise Boivin and former public-sector-union president Nycole Turmel.

Mr. Layton has promised to reverse the Conservative move to take pay-equity decisions out of human-rights tribunals - which could decide if one predominantly female job classification in the public service was underpaid compared to others - and made it a matter for union-contract bargaining.

But Mr. Layton's direct pitch for women to vote NDP - "I am asking women in Quebec and throughout Canada to join together and mark your ballot for equality," he said - is also aimed at a broader audience, and has a tactical motive, too. Turning a wave of support in polls into votes - or, even harder, seats - depends on getting voters who haven't made a firm decision to commit their ballot.

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In the past three elections, the last-week election dynamic was often heavily focused on women

Paul Martin's late-stage campaign ads warned that Mr. Harper's Conservatives would threaten abortion laws; the "buy" for last-week Liberal campaign ads have often been targeted to TV channels and shows with audiences that are predominantly women. In 2008, Conservative TV ads targeted at women raised doubts about Stéphane Dion -aimed more at discouraging "soft" Liberal supporters from voting than encouraging a switch to the Tories.

For the Liberals, the effort to each women voters late in the campaign has in the past always had simple math as its driving reason: on the whole, they tend to lean centre-left, so there's just more of them who might vote for a centre-left or left party.

"Women are significantly less likely to be conservative or Conservative. So the pool of potential Liberal voters is always predominantly female," said David Herle, a polling and market-research expert at the Gandalf Group who was a key Paul Martin strategist. Now Mr. Layton is fishing in the same pool.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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