It wasn't until reading this great article in the Toronto Star that I was finally able to put to words the reason the NDP has charged headlong into failure so many times at so many levels. The NDP is Left in the wrong way.
To quote the article
Mulcair was heading into an Edmonton convention after expressing an open mind on ...(being)... anti-oil sands...
There are a number of positions on issues that horrify mainstream voters. Not simply that they oppose the idea, but that they very strongly oppose the idea. The NDP has a history of taking these ideas up and running with them. While many mainstream voters are willing to bend on Pipelines, those who are not are going to be concentrated in the resource-rich provinces of Western Canada.
There are a few other ideas the NDP has had, past and present, that strike this same horror into the minds of voters. They include but are not limited to...
- Withdrawing from NATO
- Withdrawing from NORAD
- Opposition to a Jewish State in the Middle East
- Nationalization of Industry
- Repeal of NAFTA
As you can see, while some of these issues can be classified as economic, or foreign affairs related, all 5 have a similar theme in common of 'culture'
The NDP is culturally left. Not just socially left and economically left. This is the key difference between the NDP and the Liberals, and the key reason why the NDP fails when it fails.
Economic ideas like a basic income, helping the working class, and taxing the 1% are all popular with Canadians and could easily win elections. Social ideas like entrenching Trans rights, Refugees, and Immigration are also places the NDP can easily win.
The problem comes when you get into cultural issues; issues that rely on the worldview of the voter. while most voters do want to do something about climate change, it is not a top priority - most people are more worried about if their Trans child will get beat up today, or if they'll be able to put enough food on the table that evening. The NDP's position on climate change is not problematic, their focus on it is. The NDP has reached a point where they make more noise about climate change than the Green party does. Indigenous rights is another similar issue, most Canadians do think something needs to be done, but have their priorities elsewhere.
Governments campaign and govern in different ways. An NDP government that focuses on climate change and indigenous rights is not something that will turn off voters; an NDP campaign that focuses on these things, will.
It gets worse.
The NDP opposes pipelines, something that most Canadians understand is the safest way to transport oil. The NDP consistently supports public sector unions; in particular ones whose workers provide support to the most needy. People who make $25,000 a year are not going to take your side when you argue the people providing their services shouldn't make $75,000 a year, they should make $85,000 a year; no matter how hard you try to tell them that this is to their benefit. Some NDP parties have even pushed hard for herbicides over pesticides, and debated policy that would see the latter banned outright; farmers like to use what is cheap and effective and don't like others telling them how to do their jobs, no matter how much you tell them the environment will be better off for it.
It gets even worse.
Take a look at the NDP's own policy documents.
Almost all of these issues, and related issues, are in section 1, or the upper half of section 2. Fighting poverty is section 3.4
Seniors is 3.7
Refugees is 4.4
Ethics is 5.8
Trans Rights is 6.3
The NDP's problem is they have everything backwards. Rather than going out every day and saying that people need economic help in these hard times; that Trans people need protection; that Refugees need our help - they are going out every day and saying that the Climate is changing; they are going out every day and saying that Native peoples need help; they are going out every day saying that Proportional Representation needs to happen.
I think you'll find that while a good 70% of Canadians, if not more, think all 6 of these thing either need to happen, or, they wouldn't mind if they did happen, you'll also find that within that 70%, a good 80% think the first 3 need to happen before the second 3.
Trudeau won because he was Left in the proper way. Mulcair was Left in the wrong way. The things you say, and the order you say them in, matter. If you are talking to someone about serious issues, you are generally going to pick the things most important to you to discuss first. The NDP's problem is these things are all issues Canadians just frankly don't care that much about. Sure they want them to happen, sure they support them, but they are other, bigger issues that need to be faced in the here and now.
The NDP has not failed because they are Left.
They've failed because they are Left in the wrong way.