Breaking: The 2011 election was maybe a real thing that actually happened

The CBC investigates.

After the last federal election some observers felt the NDP had reached its peak based on the popularity of then-leader Jack Layton and the surprising success of the “orange wave” in Quebec. Since then, the party has seen the death of Layton and a leadership campaign won by Thomas Mulcair, and recent polls have shown the NDP leading the federal Conservatives in national support.

What is happening with the NDP — is it turning into a possible national government alternative?

Meanwhile, Don Braid is struck by a profound realization.

Prime minister in-waiting Thomas Mulcair comes to town fresh from a visit to B.C., where he told his many admirers the Northern Gateway pipeline should simply be cancelled, period. OK, that “in-waiting” part is calculated hyperbole, but here’s the point: this guy is not a joke or a bad dream, or a momentary political diversion.

He’s the federal official Opposition leader whose party is ahead by two percentage points in the national polls. The latest numbers show that if an election were held now, the Harper Conservative would barely squeak out a minority. Albertans cannot just wish Mulcair away; in fact, 18.5 per cent of us want to vote him in. At some point (starting today would be good) he has to be taken seriously.

In fact, 16.8% of Albertans actually voted for the NDP just a little over a year ago.

Have we wrapped our collective minds around the NDP’s 2011 election result yet? Or do we just think it was a fluke?

It is tempting to discount those numbers. The party’s rise in the polls was sudden, it seemed heavily dependent on a party leader who is no longer with us and the party’s success in Quebec was stunning (and, in some ways, preposterous). The result in Quebec though probably overshadows what happened elsewhere, specifically that the NDP finished second in popular vote in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. (Polling suggests the party was the second choice of another 28% of Canadians.) Those numbers weren’t entirely without precedent—in 2008, the NDP finished second in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia—and they haven’t crashed in the 14 months since. But regardless, the NDP won 103 seats and so until the next election it is the official opposition and, by unwritten definition, the “government-in-waiting.” The NDP is, until further notice, the primary alternative on offer. Especially when the other opposition party is still looking for a leader.

It is possible that 2011 was a fluke, but that won’t really be known for sure for another three years. Put another way: It is possible that the Liberals will find a popular new leader, regain their footing and get back in front of the NDP, restoring the political order that ruled federal politics in this country for the first 144 years, but it is also possible that the NDP will be the next non-Conservative party to form government. As weird as that may still seem. And as weird as it might be to feel that it might still be necessary to point that out.