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Without Layton, 'Orange Wave' receding in Quebec

NDP Leader Jack Layton hugs his wife, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, after speaking to his caucus in Ottawa on May 24, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Without Jack Layton in the picture, federal politics are headed for more turbulence in Quebec.

A poll this week showed the NDP is falling back to more traditional levels of support in the province without Mr. Layton at the helm, suggesting the "Orange Wave" is already receding after reshaping Quebec's political map on May 2.

The New Democrats insist that, with 59 of 75 ridings in Quebec, they continue to represent the province's interests and values in Ottawa. At an end-of-session news conference, interim leader Nycole Turmel said she will keep focusing on issues that concern Quebeckers, such as the need for a new bridge in Montreal, fighting greenhouse gases and saving the long-gun registry.

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"I don't look at polls, I look at what we do," Ms. Turmel said.

But political rivals are delighted at the thought that the NDP bubble has burst in Quebec. A Harris-Decima survey indicated this week the NDP's support has plunged to 26 per cent in the province, which is tied with the Bloc Québécois and down 16 points since the party swept the province in the last election.

"The reality is that people didn't vote for the NDP, people voted for Jack Layton," said Liberal MP Denis Coderre.

Mr. Layton, who was hugely popular in Quebec, died last August. His replacement will be appointed at a party convention in Toronto on March 24, leaving the party under the guidance of Ms. Turmel, a rookie MP who has failed to impress since she took over.

Long listless in Quebec, the Liberals are up six points to 20 per cent in the Harris-Decima poll, ahead of the Conservatives at 17 per cent.

The Liberals benefited this fall from a strong performance by interim leader Bob Rae, who impressed during a recent appearance on Tout le Monde en Parle, a popular Sunday night talk show, during which he played piano and put his political skills to good use. Mr. Rae reminded viewers that his party vigorously opposed the nomination of a unilingual anglophone as Canada's Auditor-General, with the Liberals bolting out of the House when the matter came up for a vote.

The NDP, meanwhile, struggled this fall to deal with the nomination of a unilingual judge to the Supreme Court. A New Democratic MP sat on the panel that approved a short list of candidates, including unilingual ones, even though the party is proposing legislation to force all members of the top court to be bilingual.

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Mr. Coderre called the poll a "reality check" for the NDP.

"There is no doubt that Quebeckers don't relate to the Harper government, and they are looking for a party that will defend them," Mr. Coderre said.

The Bloc Québécois, which was reduced to four members in the election, said the poll shows that Quebeckers are quickly turning away from their flirtation with a federalist party.

Still, the party's new leader, Daniel Paillé, acknowledged that he has lots of work ahead of him to bring the Bloc back to respectability.

"It's a nice end-of-session gift, nothing more," Mr. Paillé said of the poll results.

The NDP has suffered from the fact that many of its strongest performers had to give up their positions as critics to run in the leadership race, including the party's star in Quebec, MP Thomas Mulcair. Other MPs have taken up the slack, such as Alexandre Boulerice, a former union spokesman who has become one of the party's best attack dogs.

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However, an expert said the next leader will have to pick up where Mr. Layton left off and try to find a way to make his or her party resonate in Quebec again.

"The NDP leadership race hasn't generated much excitement in Quebec," said Réjean Pelletier, a professor of political science at Laval University. "It will be up to the next leader to convince Quebeckers that the NDP is truly a government in waiting."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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