Well it’s finally upon us. With Labour Day now in our rear view mirrors and most children heading back to school, the summer is essentially over. And while the writ for the 43rd General Election will not likely drop another dozen or so days, give or take, in effect we are essentially into the campaign. Or at least that’s how the parties view it.

We’ve finally reached the period where most Canadians will start to turn their attentions to the election to come and the choices they’ve got before them. With that being the case, the parties will start putting more and more of their message forward. While the deep-pocketed Conservatives have been running TV ads for weeks and the Liberals have been making spending announcements all over the country, the New Democrats have mostly kept their powered dry until today, when they released the following:

The Orange Team have released their first TV ad, with a solid slogan: “In it for you”. The message? Only the NDP are here to stand for you and your interests, not those of others. It’s a solid NDP message, one that resonates with many traditional NDP voters and views. But while the slogan and the ad are good, they have to be looked at in the full context of the current environment because while the party released that today, here are the other things that have been released on the party this past weekend:

Look everyone, I’m not trying to be a downer here or overly critical, but I can’t ignore what my eyes see and my ears hear. None of these stories can be glossed over and while some of them are not damning onto themselves, they do speak to the current circumstances that the NDP faces at the moment. The party is trying to do the same amount with less; less money, less staff and less flexible travel arrangements. The party is far behind on candidate nominations, barely past the half-way mark with time quickly running out. Other NDP politicians are posing for photos with the Liberal Prime Minister and some in the media are now talking about the NDP being wiped off the map, potentially losing official party status.

These are high stakes indeed, the kind of campaign the Orange team haven’t faced for close to two decades. And like I said, while any one of those things by themselves wouldn’t be fatal, all put together they could be. Which is why I found this first TV ad from the NDP both comforting yet worrying. It was comforting to me because it felt a lot like the party coming home to a point, focusing on people’s everyday concerns and the cost of living.

Yet I also came away from it feeling worried because of the state of the party and its ability to be “In it” for everyone in every riding across the country. In this sense, this is a problem the NDP hasn’t faced in so long; potentially not being able to run candidates in every riding and having many other candidates who have no resources and no hope of winning. It hasn’t been since the pre-Layton years that the NDP has been in such a weakened state, and it isn’t helped much by the competition. The fact is that while many people are disappointed by Justin Trudeau, people don’t feel about him like they did about Stephen Harper in 2015. Or at least a groundswell of antipathy towards Trudeau that would match the one towards Harper hasn’t appeared yet.

For the first time in a generation, the campaign is lining up to be a true “Red door/Blue door” choice and because of its current state, the NDP is far from being in the best position to fight it off. That makes the stakes extremely high for the Orange Team, and while I believe that isn’t lost on them, I didn’t feel that urgency in this ad. The ad isn’t bad, it just seems like an ad that would work well in a different circumstance, one that we don’t find ourselves in today.

So what is the NDP to do? That’s a fair question to ask, especially given how I’m giving my opinions here on it. The problem is that I don’t know if there is anything the NDP itself can do right now to change this situation. A lot of the current issues the party is facing right now has been years in the making and it’s too late to reverse all of that in a few weeks. Because of the position they find themselves in today, there is very little that could change this trajectory that is in their control. A good debate performance on September 12th is one of those, but beyond that, there isn’t much.

A lot of the NDP’s chances comes back to what the other parties do. The fact remains that while the party may be down, it’s not because of some built up antipathy towards them. Jagmeet Singh, while not well known, is not disliked and the NDP has many popular and well-liked MPs still running in this campaign. And in the minds of many progressives, the NDP aren’t seen as a problem; they just are looking at the Liberals right now as the best chance to stop Andrew Scheer. If the Liberals and Greens slip up, that leaves opportunities for the New Democrats to improve their standing and turn this thing around. But it will require slips on their parts, and that’s a position the New Democrats haven’t been in for a while.

So at the start of this campaign, the NDP are telling us that they are “In it for you”, which is a good message, but one question that remains open; are they “In it to win it?” The answer to that question is open to debate at this point. What’s clear though is that the NDP is not going into the 2019 campaign in the best position. In this high stakes campaign for the Orange Team, we’ll see just how much of an effect that will have on the end results on October 21st.

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