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The New Democratic Party (NDP), founded in Ottawa in 1961 at a convention uniting the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION (CCF), affiliated unions of the CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS (CLC) and New Party clubs, is a social democratic party (see SOCIAL DEMOCRACY and SOCIALISM) and a member of the Socialist International. The party has had six leaders: T.C. DOUGLAS (1961-71), David LEWIS (1971-75), Ed BROADBENT (1975-89), Audrey MCLAUGHLIN (1989-95), Alexa MCDONOUGH (1995-2003) and Jack LAYTON (2003-present). Since its founding, the federal NDP has obtained on average 15.4% of the vote. Such a percentage is sufficient to influence Canadian politics, particularly during MINORITY GOVERNMENTS, but is not enough to either form the national government or official opposition. While the NDP has done better in votes than its predecessor the CCF (11.1%), the 1990s saw support for the party fall well below the NDP average. However, in 2004, Layton led the NDP back to its normal level of voter support. Yet because of the electoral system, the NDP, like the CCF before it, has consistently received a smaller percentage of the seats in Parliament than its percentage of votes. In 1988 the party achieved a historic high of 43 seats, but in the following election of 1993 the party plummeted to a record low of 9 seats. In the 2006 election the NDP won 29 seats, making it the fourth party in the HOUSE OF COMMONS, but still enough to be influential in a minority Parliament.
While the West has provided the highest level of voting support, individual memberships and MPs for the party, the largest number of NDP votes usually comes from the more populous Central Canada (largely Ontario). The NDP, like the CCF, has been unable to elect an MP from Québec in a general election, although it has acquired the occasional seat by an MP defecting to the NDP (1986) or in a by-election (1987).
A number of provincial sections of the CCF-NDP have had greater electoral success and have formed governments in BC (Dave BARRETT: 1972-75; Mike HARCOURT: 1991-96; Glen CLARK: 1996-99; Dan Miller: 1999-2000; Ujjal DOSANJH: 2000-2001, Saskatchewan (Tommy DOUGLAS: 1944-64; Woodrow LLOYD: 1961-1964; Allan BLAKENEY: 1971-82, Roy ROMANOW: 1991-2001; Lorne CALVERT (2001-present), Manitoba (Ed SCHREYER: 1969-77; Howard PAWLEY: 1981-88; Gary DOER (1999-present), Ontario (Bob RAE: 1990-95), and the Yukon Territory (Tony PENIKETT: 1985-1992, Piers McDonald: 1996-2000). It has also served as the Official Opposition in Alberta and Nova Scotia.
In domestic affairs, the NDP is committed to a moderate form of socialism and a mixed economy. It favours government planning and public ownership (eg, CROWN CORPORATIONS, co-operatives), where necessary, to provide jobs and services. The CCF-NDP has always been a vigorous exponent of such SOCIAL SECURITY measures as universal medical care, old-age pensions, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance as a means to reduce class inequalities. It has called for national dental-care and child-care programs, favoured higher taxes on corporations and the rich and generally favoured greater government expenditures to expand social services.
As the official political voice of labour, the NDP has encouraged trade-union organization While the CCF advocated strong, federal government, the NDP has been more receptive to provincial rights.
In foreign policy, the NDP, like the CCF, has manifested strong pacifist tendencies. While this pacifism lessened somewhat in the 1950s and early 1960s, the party currently opposes Canada's involvement in NATO and NORAD and calls for Canada to become a nuclear-free zone. Recently, the NDP has been uneasy about increased military integration with the United States, believing that this will jeopardize Canadian sovereignty. It has warned of the dangers of the weaponization of space and American lobbying to have Canada join the North American anti-ballistic system. The NDP has been highly critical of America's unilateralism and propensity for military interventions in world politics, and instead favours more peaceful international efforts through the UNITED NATIONS.
Throughout its history, the NDP has been critical about the high rate of foreign, particularly American, ownership of Canadian industry. Under NDP pressure, the Trudeau Liberal minority government in the 1970s introduced the FOREIGN INVESTMENT REVIEW AGENCY (FIRA). When the Mulroney Conservatives campaigned for economic integration with the US under the FREE TRADE Accord (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the NDP opposed both agreements.
While the party has always proposed an evolutionary and moderate form of socialism, a persistent minority has endeavoured to push the party further left. The WAFFLE, the most famous faction, operated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while the latest incarnation of a "left-caucus" is the New Politics Initiative (NPI).
Under Ed Broadbent the NDP led national public polls for much of 1987, but still did not break out of third-party status in the election of 1988. The next leader, Audrey McLaughlin, sought to make the party more inclusive and less confrontational. McLaughlin's leadership failed to inspire the voters and the party's support dropped in the 1993 election to its lowest ever. The problems, however, were more long-standing than one particular campaign or leader. Even during the Broadbent days, the federal NDP had been increasingly seen as one of the "old" parties. By 1993 the NDP was challenged by the right populist REFORM PARTY (later transformed into the CANADIAN ALLIANCE) in the West, the separatist BLOC QUÉBÉCOIS in Québec and even the "left-sounding" LIBERALS in Ontario. In the 1990s the federal NDP was to some degree handicapped by its association with the growing unpopularity of several NDP provincial governments. This was most notable with Rae's controversial "social contract" legislation in Ontario, but also in BC with the divisions between environmentalists and loggers and the backlash from several financial scandals.
Following the 1993 electoral setback, the federal NDP sought to rebuild organizationally and sponsored policy conferences in an attempt to re-energize itself and its platform. One innovation employed in 1995 was to elect its next leader by means of a two-step process - first involving a direct ballot of party members and affiliated unions and then followed by a national convention. The new leader, Alexa McDonough, led the NDP into the 1997 campaign with the enormous challenge of regaining official parliamentary status for the party. The goal was achieved, but the NDP still remained a distant fourth place in the House of Commons. The 2000 election saw the party slip in both votes and seats, narrowly retaining official party status in Parliament. After several disappointing elections, party members once more debated the future of social democracy, the party's organizational structure and its relationship to the labour movement. To facilitate the renewal process, McDonough stepped down as leader. In a 2003 nation-wide direct ballot, individual and affiliated union members voted former Toronto city councillor Jack Layton the new federal NDP leader.
Layton's victory signalled that the NDP membership wanted a more visible leader better equipped to tackle urban issues and foster links between the party and new social movements. Leading up to the 2004 campaign, the energetic Layton attracted media attention and the party rose in the polls. In the 2004 election the NDP recorded its best vote count in over a decade (almost doubling its votes to 15.7%), but the number of seats won increased only to 19, significantly less than the party had anticipated. Nevertheless, in the minority Parliament of 2004/2005, the NDP was able to play a key role. The NDP's amendment to the Liberal government's budget generated more spending for infrastructure and social programmes. The NDP also successfully lobbied the Martin government to resist involvement in the US missile defence system and to pass the same-sex marriage legislation. In the 2006 election, the NDP, under Layton, continued to make gains in vote (17.5%) and seats (29). Given the diffusion of power in yet another minority Parliament, the NDP's role will continue to be substantial.
One of the greatest organizational difficulties for the NDP has been the 2004 election finances legislation, which virtually eliminates trade union financial contributions to the party that labour co-founded. Another challenge emerged during the 2006 election when Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) president Buzz Hargrove called for union members to vote strategically. He urged unionists and others, where necessary, not to vote NDP, but instead vote Liberal, in order to stop a CONSERVATIVE PARTY victory. The debate continues over the place of Canada's labour party and the role of trade union members in political action and party politics.



Suggested Reading S. Knowles, The New Party (1961); D. Lewis, The Good Fight (1981); D. Morton, The New Democrats 1961-1986 (1986); L. McDonald, The Party that Changed Canada (1987); T. McLeod and I. McLeod, Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem (1987); D. Gruending, Promises to Keep (1990); A. Whitehorn, Canadian Socialism (1992); I. McLeod, Under Siege (1994); J. Laxer, In Search of a New Left (1996); B. Rae, From Protest to Power (1996); M. Harcourt, Mike Harcourt (1996); K. Archer & A. Whitehorn, Political Activists (1997); E. Broadbent, ed, Democratic Equality (2001); Z.D. Berlin and H. Aster, eds, What's Left (2001); J. Layton, Speaking Out: Ideas That Work for Canadians (2004).

Author ALAN WHITEHORN

The Canadian Encyclopedia © 2007 Historica Foundation of Canada