B.C. NDP MPs face an uphill reelection battle under Thomas Mulcair
This afternoon, I heard two B.C. male callers on different talk-radio shows saying they may not vote for the NDP because of the election of Thomas Mulcair as leader.
Both of the men—one on Sean Leslie's CKNW show and the other on Rex Murphy's Cross Country Checkup on CBC—said they voted NDP in the past.
But then they mentioned that they didn't like having an NDP leader from Quebec.
I was taken aback because I thought we in B.C. were beyond this kind of thinking. Apparently not.
That got me thinking about another obstacle on the horizon for NDP MPs from B.C.: the looming election of a provincial NDP government.
Recent polls suggest the B.C. NDP under Adrian Dix should form government after the May 14, 2013 provincial lection.
The bad news for B.C.'s 12 NDP members of Parliament is that their side invariably gets slaughtered two or more years after the NDP wins a provincial election.
In the 1974 federal election, the NDP was reduced from 11 to two MPs. This came two years after the NDP's Dave Barrett became premier.
In that 1974 federal campaign, the New Democrats even lost Vancouver East, now the party's safest seat in the province.
In 1979 after the right-wing Socreds were back in control of the provincial government, the federal New Democrats rebounded, winning 8 of the 28 seats in B.C.
Even in Brian Mulroney's Conservative landslide of 1984, the New Democrats retained eight seats as the Socreds remained in control in Victoria. And four years later, with the Socreds still running the provincial government, the NDP had its most spectacular federal campaign. Under Ed Broadbent, the NDP captured 19 of 32 B.C. ridings.
But it wasn't to last. NDP premier Mike Harcourt was elected in 1991. Then the federal New Democrats went into a dreadful, decade-long tailspin.
In the 1993 federal election, the NDP took only two of 32 seats in B.C.
In 1997 with the NDP still governing the province, the federal wing only captured three federal ridings in this province.
In 2000, it was a similar story. As the provincial NDP government was near its lowest point in popularity, its federal counterparts only won two of 34 federal seats. Libby Davies and Svend Robinson were the only survivors.
The evidence shows that federal New Democrats will get obliterated in B.C. when the party has controlled the provincial government for two years or more.
However in this century during the years of right-wing B.C. Liberal rule, the federal NDP has staged a remarkable recovery.
It won five B.C. seats in 2004, 10 B.C. seats in 2006, nine B.C. seats in 2008, and 12 B.C. seats in 2011.
The new leader, Mulcair, is going to need even more success in B.C. if he hopes to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the next election, which is expected in 2015. But he won't be helped if Harper exploits any latent bigotry in this province against Quebec politicians.
What's worse for Mulcair is that by 2015, B.C. New Democrats should be well into their provincial mandate. And that could spell bad news for B.C. MPs like Jasbir Sandhu, Jinny Sims, and Kennedy Stewart, who were elected in 2011 on Jack Layton's coattails. (They all supported Mulcair's chief rival, Brian Topp, who was born in Quebec but who wasn't seen as a Quebec candidate.)
Keep in mind that if Mulcair loses the next federal election, there might be a real appetite in B.C. not to keep him around for another four years. That will be especially true if NDP MPs are routed in this province by the Conservatives.
B.C. New Democrats might then say it's time there was a leader from this province, given the party's traditional strength here. About 30 percent of the NDP's members live in this province.
So who are the potential successors to Mulcair? One obvious possibility is Peter Julian, the bilingual MP for Burnaby–New Westminster. He would have to retain his seat to warrant consideration at that time.
Here's one you might not have considered. Adrian Dix is fluently bilingual. After the next federal election, he may be viewed as a successful premier.
Don't discount the possibility that his many friends in the NDP might one day want to draft him as a candidate to replace Mulcair—and run for prime minister—should the current leader falter in the next federal election.
Normally, premiers don't run for the highest office in the land because they're too tied to their regional interests. But one exception was Robert Stanfield, a former Nova Scotia premier who came very close to defeating Pierre Trudeau in 1972.
Two former premiers who became prime minister in the 19th century were John Thompson and Charles Tupper. Like Stanfield, they ruled Nova Scotia.
It's far too early to say if Dix has any possibility of becoming the third. But don't rule it out.
Of course, Mulcair could douse this type of speculation if the NDP wins the next federal election.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.