Federal New Democrats are enjoying a bump in membership, a rise in fundraising and a spring in their step these days. And they're quietly giving thanks to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.Now, my initial reaction is that the numbers themselves are relatively moderate. While the NDP obviously has to be happy to be adding members and discovering a message which seems to offer a fund-raising boost, there's little indication that membership numbers in three digits or financial contributions in five will substantially affect the NDP's position.
Dion's decisions to abstain on key Commons votes on immigration changes, climate change and the Tory's big tax cuts have given New Democrats political room to declare they are Parliament's "progressive" party...
The Liberals have been careful in recent months not to oppose the government on key issues, which could force an election they don't want. And while the evidence is anecdotal, the New Democrats seem to be reaping the fallout.
An NDP fundraising appeal that asked, "Who will stand up to Stephen Harper's agenda?" proved a winner for the party.
"We'll stand in our places and vote against him – and face him in an election if we have to," the email read.
That effort won the party donations that totalled five figures, twice as much as other recent fundraising missives.
The party is seeing an uptick in membership, too. In the first quarter of 2008, the NDP added 504 new members – more than double the 180 who joined the ranks last year.
"People are coming and talking to us and appreciating that we're standing up... . I've noticed a difference," Layton said.
But particularly in the face of Harper's culture of secrecy, it's more significant that the NDP taking at least some tentative steps toward a more open form of politics by going public with these internal details in the first place.
When it comes to membership numbers, my quick attempt at research for a post last year didn't turn up anything approaching current totals for Canada's federal political parties. While the NDP's base numbers still aren't clear, it's still interesting to see what type of recruitment can be expected - particularly during what looks to have been a relatively quiet period for the party. And if the NDP is indeed accelerating its membership growth after having already been equal with the Libs last year, then that can only bode well for its long-term prospects.
And it's even more significant that the NDP has made public fund-raising numbers associated with a particular campaign, rather than limiting its disclosure to what's required in quarterly reports to Elections Canada. I've argued before that any political party should be looking at the effectiveness of fund-raising appeals to see what issues best motivate its base. But the NDP has gone a step further by both allowing at least some public insight into how money is normally raised, and what message has been most successful in boosting that number lately.
What's more, the NDP's willingness to put more information in the hands of the public comes at the same time as Elizabeth May's top-down control over the Greens has boiled over again. Given that the Libs have fought accountability tooth and nail and the Cons well known for Harper's micromanagement and secrecy covering virtually everything done within their party and government (not to mention being called out for lies by Canada's leading accountability watchdog), the NDP has a prime opportunity to push to be identified as the only party which values accountability and public information for itself as well as for others.
Now, there's undoubtedly a question to be raised as to whether the NDP plans to do more of the same and indeed expand its range of disclosure in the future, or whether the current openness is based solely on wanting to highlight some immediate good news. And I'll be disappointed if it turns out to be the latter.
But the door is open for the NDP to set itself apart from the top-down, unaccountable style of the other parties. And if it can take that mantle along with the "true opposition" title as its main themes heading into the next federal election, then the NDP's recent gains in the polls and in the eyes of the media should be just the beginning.