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Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s NDP Leadership Debate

Tuesday March 13, 2012

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the last NDP Leaders Debate Live at the CBC Regional Broadcast Centre in Vancouver on March 11. I have collected my thoughts on the Debate and in particular on each of the leadership candidates.

Martin Singh

Mr Singh is another leadership candidate that I knew less about, but I did know I liked. His discussions on making the NDP more business friendly are timely and relevant. Many social democracies in the world are also good places to do business and reaching out to the business community offers new opportunities for alliances or to at least neutralize potential adversaries. He also seems to be doing this in a sensible way, without divorcing himself from the NDP’s values.

Overall his performance in this debate was good and he definitely touched on some relevant points regarding youth unemployment. Yet, like most of the rest, he ultimately punted on the issue which was disappointing. He’s clearly an important player and like Ms Ashton, I have no doubt that this leadership race is going to position him well for a role under the next leader.

Niki Ashton

I have to give Ms Ashton a lot of credit. At 29, she’s the youngest candidate for the leadership and she’s well positioned to speak for young voters. She also has the feisty speech down pat. Her interactions with the other candidates is where she shows where she needs development, but there’s a lot to admire about her. It’s therefore more than a bit of a shame that she’s probably the most orthodox of all the candidates.

Her stances may have won her a rural Manitoba seat but ideas that are more than twice as old as her isn’t going to draw in young voters. This was a good chance for her to take some risks but she seems content to offer only the risk of herself as a young leadership candidate. Definitely a missed opportunity.

Thomas Mulcair

I’ve liked Mr Mulcair despite my support for Lead Now and my belief in greater inter-party cooperation. There’s a lot about him that is appealing, especially to a former lefty liberal like me. I even understand where he’s coming from on the Liberal Party and the genuine anger that comes through when he talks about the potential. His ideas about bringing in more people under the NDP banner also speaks strongly to a party finally so close to taking power.

All of that being said, his debate performance really disappointed. He was far too much an old school politician and more than a little condescending at a few points. I have to say my esteem for Mr Mulcair declined watching his debate performance. All of that being said, I think he could still make a good NDP Leader and Prime Minister. But the party will run the very real risks of becoming the Liberals 2.0 and that’s not what I signed up for.

Brian Topp

I have to say that Brian Topp is the most disappointing of all the candidates in this debate. He just doesn’t seem able to catch fire and frankly, to me he seems to be completely out of his depth as a politician. I’ve had to really think about his performance and to try to find some good things to say about it. I will say that on a lot of policy ideas, he has good ones. I think he’s very strong there.

However, I can’t see him being the person to lead the NDP or take on Stephen Harper. I just can’t. He’s worse than an old school politician, he’s old school NDP. And that is the last thing we need right now if we’re going to take this forward.

Nathan Cullen

Nathan Cullen came into this debate in my mind as a second tier candidate and left it as one of my top three picks for the job. I was always already drawn to his cooperation policy but honestly doubted if a rural British Columbian candidate was the right person for the job. I was surprised and impressed. His answers were cogent and substantive. He seemed less focused on polemics and more on real ideas.

He really seemed to speak to the need to take risks for the NDP to advance and to really offer new politics. His biggest weakness seems to be communicating that his strategy is not a strategy of defeat for the NDP. He needs to be a bit stronger on this point or a lot of the NDP will turn on him.

Paul Dewar

I didn’t know a lot about Paul Dewar coming into this debate and I think he carried himself reasonably well. In particular, on the issues of recognizing foreign credentials for immigrants, he made many of the most cogent points. He’s got a good grasp of the very real issues facing those who migrate to this country on the promise of work, and then discover that they’re credentials are all but useless.

However, beyond this particular issue, he doesn’t particularly stand out on any of the other issues. This is a time for the NDP to take risks and stand out. He simply does not have the presence and gravitas to carry that forward. He’s got a great future though on these issues in an NDP government.

Peggy Nash

Ms Nash was one of the candidates I’ve been watching closely because of her stands on cooperation and her movement toward supporting proportional representation. As well, as an urban MP, she can speak effectively for a lot of the issues that matter to me. I will also admit that having female leader strongly appeals to me.

It struck me though that it seemed to take her a while to get her footing. Maybe this a personal perception, but she didn’t seem to get her footing in the debate until it was well underway. That being said, this may be a one off and I personally am planning to attend her Surrey Open House.

Some Closing Thoughts

I was disappointed by how much of the debate focused on old ideas. There wasn’t a lot that was new and innovative, which is exactly what the NDP needs and what is necessary to attract the youth vote, the putative topic of this debate. Policy papers and prescriptions and Crown Corps aren’t going to reach disaffected voters. The Policy we have is largely already in tune with young voters. We need to find new and innovative ways to bring those young voters into the conversation and this debate did nothing to further that.

I would say that Nathan Cullen was the winner of this debate with Peggy Nash coming in second. Both of them left this debate looking like they could be the next Prime Minister. Thomas Mulcair also left this debate looking that way, but also like he would be a re-run of a lot of Prime Ministers we’ve had before.

This debate has definitely influenced where I am going to vote for the leadership. I haven’t made a decision but I have definitely narrowed the scope of my candidates and I am nearing making this important choice.

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