I’ve worked on political campaigns for minor party candidates (provincial and federal Libertarians) who had to keep their campaigning to the weekend and after-work slots because they still had to earn a living during the election. I find it hard to believe that so many candidates for a “major” party are running part-time candidacies:
There’s a standard-bearer in Quebec who went on a Las Vegas vacation for a week because she didn’t want to lose her deposit. She also reportedly spoke French so poorly that a local radio station had to scotch an interview rather than air the exchange. Another candidate went to the Caribbean and one travelled to France. There’s a Toronto candidate who has not campaigned at all, can’t be reached, and, judging by a Toronto Star report, quite possibly is an apparition. There are all kinds of students who, presumably, did not have the pesky constraints of full-time work that weighed down Mr. Larkin.
None of these things are unusual — third-place parties usually have a fair bit of cannon fodder — but it is unusual for anyone to be asking about them. And that’s what’s happening to the NDP. People are asking about them, and about the party and its platform, far more than they were last month, or even early last week.
It’s what naturally happens when an also-ran finds itself suddenly very much in the running. The key question for the NDP is: Can it manage four days of impromptu scrutiny?
That will depend on how the traditionally Liberal media handles this unexpected surge from the left: they know how to find awkward quotes and disreputable connections for candidates on the right, but generally have treated leftists with a faint air of “isn’t that cute?” rather than as serious campaigners. Can they apply the same standards in a mirror image?
It’s possible that they will give Jack Layton a much rougher ride than they have so far:
Jack Layton himself is also now facing a different sort of question about his own policies from reporters travelling with him. He was asked on Thursday about how his platform, which calls for a price on carbon, would affect gasoline prices. One analysis says the NDP plan would add 10¢ a litre at the pumps. Mr. Layton insisted that an ombudsman would be able to keep oil companies from raising prices for consumers, but he disagreed that he was proposing to regulate gasoline prices. Reporters described the exchange, which included questions about the AWOL candidates, as “testy” and “heated,” which has been rare for the NDP leader thus far. And testy exchanges lead to stories about how a leader is “on the defensive” or “responding to critics.” Eventually they can become “embattled.” (In the case of Mr. Ignatieff, a report on Thursday referred to him as “beleaguered.”)
“Tone matters,” explains Prof. Matthews. “People do respond to the media. Not everyone, of course, not the partisans and not the people who aren’t paying any attention, but there are people who take their cues from the coverage.”
Update: Publius points out that the situation could be at least as good as last season’s CBC offerings:
Everyone has been stunned by the NDP surge. The newly minted Sun News has started calling it an “Orange Crush,” which is a gross insult to a fine fizzy beverage. No one has been more surprised than the NDP. For years the party has run non-entity place holders in most ridings, as they did this time around. One of them is a Quebec barmaid who took a vacation mid-campaign, which says everything you need to know about the NDPs organization in Quebec. Now some of those ridings are competitive. We could have MPs in the next Parliament that were “accidentally” elected. There’s a sitcom in there somewhere.