NDP stunned after dreams of governing are shattered

The NDP didn't see the Liberals becoming a true electoral force, and suffered for it. What's next for Thomas Mulcair?

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to supporters, Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to supporters, Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

MONTREAL – With a dramatically smaller caucus of just 44 MPs, Tom Mulcair is set to stay on as NDP leader while his party struggles to figure out exactly how it managed to go from front-runner to electoral flop.

Longtime Ontario MP Charlie Angus, re-elected in the riding of Timmins-James Bay, says the New Democrats will not “jump the gun” by making rash decisions following Monday’s devastating outcome.

“The knives don’t come out,” Angus said in a phone interview. “The New Democrat caucus … shows its solidarity, we stick together, we work through these things.”

It will take a while to sift through the aftermath and figure out what went wrong, he continued.

“We all have to lick our wounds and really assess what happened because it felt so good right up to the night of,” Angus said.

“I was talking to experienced campaign managers, people who knew this stuff in their gut who would reassure me — ‘It’s feeling good, our ground game is strong.’ And wow, something happened.”

Related: How the NDP suffered an Orange Crash

Party insiders admit they saw an electoral freight train coming about a month ago, but many in the senior leadership refused to believe Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were poised to make a historic political revival.

The scope of the NDP loss and the prospect of a long, painful rebuilding process are just beginning to sink in for the party, which formed the official Opposition for the first time ever in 2011 under the leadership of Jack Layton.

High-profile MPs, including deputy leader Megan Leslie, Peter Stoffer, Jack Harris, Paul Dewar, Nycole Turmel, Peggy Nash and Andrew Cash all lost their seats Monday.

“When you talk with people who have given up the last four years, every weekend, every break, really trying to engage the public and really trying to find ways to make democracy matter to people to just get wiped out in a wave, it certainly makes you ponder your place in the universe,” Angus said.

Related: A transcript of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s concession speech

Mulcair spent Tuesday calling all members of his team — elected and defeated — to praise their work on the campaign.

Party outsiders are now wondering whether Mulcair will stick around for the next four years, especially in light of how far towards the centre of the political spectrum he pulled the traditional left-wing NDP.

Robin Sears, the party’s former national director, said the party is not inclined to turf leaders.

“No. 1, you have a huge investment in the brand of the leader,” Sears said. “Even if things have gone badly on election night, why would you write that off immediately?

“No. 2, post-election-defeat leadership contests are never pleasant. They’re always divisive. Why would you do that if you didn’t have to either?”

Sears said he has always been “quite baffled by the enthusiasm of other political tribes to kill the king” as soon as defeat has set in.

“It has so many negative consequences.”

How much of the blame will rest on Mulcair’s shoulders remains to be seen.

McMaster political science professor Peter Graefe said he does not anticipate much movement on the leadership front for at least a couple of months as the party reviews its financial situation following the campaign.

“I presume the main strategy, regardless of whether he stays on or not, is to figure out how to get the party finances in order as compared to running a leadership campaign, which pulls resources away from the central party,” Graefe said.

“I think in the short run, people will be sort of sitting back. I think at that point the question becomes whether some kind of mutiny comes to the fore.”

— With files from Kristy Kirkup in Ottawa