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Winners and Losers: The Outcomes of the NDP Leadership Convention

Tuesday March 27, 2012

Now that the Leadership Convention is over for the New Democratic Party its time to reflect, build and plan for the future.  The outcome was, as many couldn’t help but remind us, pretty much in the bag for Thomas Mulcair who is now the Leader of the Official Opposition and the first Quebecker to lead the party.  He also has a very good chance of becoming the first NDP Prime Minister.  The Convention, despite its issues, appears to have achieved its goals and Mr Mulcair’s first moves as leader have been promising.

Winning Candidates

Obviously, the biggest winner of this process was Thomas Mulcair, who walked away with the big prize, the party leadership.  It’s a good thing too, because his convention performance was unsatisfactory to say the least.  His leadership showcase video was amateur at best, having the appearance of a quickly assembled power point put together by the office boy.  His entrance was excessive and unnecessary, his speech as a result was rushed.  His victory speech was also uninspiring to say the least.

Nonetheless despite these problems he has demonstrated a much better post-convention performance thus far.  His immediate post-convention interview with Peter Mansbridge went over much better than his speech.  His opening moves as NDP Leader and in the House of Commons have been smart moves, focusing on party unity and economic matters.  This effective start in the job, if maintained, will leave his convention performance quickly forgotten.

The next biggest winner was undeniably Nathan Cullen.  His speech at the beginning of the Leadership showcase was his campaign in miniature: it snuck up from nowhere, was substantive, passionate with no fluff and all but stole the show.  If the majority of the vote had not been locked in by the advance polls it would be interesting to see how Mr Cullen would have ultimately performed.  Nonetheless, his speech is the only one that has had any lasting traction or impact.  Mr Cullen has positioned himself very well in the party and we can continue to expect very good things from him in the future.  The ideas he espoused are not going away anytime soon.

Niki Ashton was also came out of this Convention a winner.  Her speech was passionate, honest, and by far the strongest one she had given in the campaign.  While she came in last and was knocked off after the first ballot, she never really had all that much chance of taking the leadership anyhow.  The campaign has obviously honed her skills and given her a new fan base (including myself) across the country.  She is in a very good position for the next leadership race and for a strong place in the party going forward.

The last of the candidates that undeniably came out ahead from the Convention was Martin Singh.  His obvious concession to Mr Mulcair obviously puts him in the new leader’s good books, especially considering he was the only candidate to do so.  However, beyond that, his leadership showcase, the South Park NDP story of Martin Singh and his son’s performance was a particularly charming piece of Canadiana.  It also provided a nice capstone to the leadership showcase and demonstrated his potential as a politician.

The Rest of the Candidates

Paul Dewar came out of the Convention with pretty much the same standing he came in with.  His speech was solid and if the rap performance was misplaced it didn’t undermine his standing.  He could have done better but overall he has done well and I expect to see good things from him in the future.

That brings us to the two candidates who came out of this Convention worse off then before, Peggy Nash and Brian Topp.

Peggy Nash’s leadership showcase was disappointing.  The media component was pedestrian as the others and her speech faced a similar problem as Mr Mulcair’s.  Ms Nash instead of rushing through though attempted to speak (and shout) over her cut off music. Declaring herself the ‘perfect candidate’ didn’t exactly sell her as a potential leader either. Her disappointing performance both in the showcase and votes has left her standing somewhat diminished.  Still as an important urban MP she can effectively bounce back from this loss.

By far though the biggest loser from this entire contest has been Brian Topp.  As the anointed successor, with the entire party establishment behind him, he had every advantage going into this race.  His partisans unleashed some fairly harsh language on Mr Mulcair to support their candidate.  Despite this the final contest was not even close and for such a ‘polarizing’ figure Mr Mulcair received a sizable number of second and third choice votes.

There simply was no widespread anti-Mulcair movement to rally around Mr Topp.  Add to that the implication in his speech that his opponents did not share the NDP’s social democratic values and a weak presentation (saying ‘he’s ready’ over and over again said exactly the opposite)  didn’t exactly add to his base of support.  Having let loose on Mr Mulcair and lacking a strong base of support he is now severely weakened in a party led by Mr Mulcair.  While both are making optimistic noises about Mr Topp running as a candidate for Parliament, no one is going to be stepping aside for him any time soon.  His future role in the party is undefined at this point.

A Successful Convention

Change and the need to modernize were definitely big winners in the Convention too.  The 1st and 3rd place rankings of the two candidates advocating change, indicated a substantial desire for a new direction by party members.  It’s becoming obvious that the NDP’s members are serious about challenging Stephen Harper for government in 2015.  They are no longer content to be Parliament’s “conscience.”

The NDP as a party are also clear winners from this convention.  Despite the problems the Convention had with the electronic voting system and that the majority of the vote was already locked in via the preferential advance ballots, the NDP Convention managed to generate much of the excitement and interest of a more typical party Convention.  The media coverage, despite the problems has been positive, and the Party clearly has enhanced its standing among Canadians.  Indeed, despite the difficulties of interim leadership by the inexperienced Nycole Turmel and the absence of so much of the Party’s talent for the leadership race, the Party has held its own in the polls.

Collateral Damage from the Convention

Unfortunately, things have not been completely rosy for other elements of the NDP.  Ed Broadbent has seriously damaged his reputation within the party and healing the rifts that he opened will take time.  It will be interesting to see how that unfolds over the coming months and years.

Another big loser was the process of Internet voting.  Given that the system was attacked from outside, the NDP will carefully need to reconsider its process.  While the one person, one vote principal is important to a modern party and embracing new technology can help fulfill that goal, some serious soul searching will need to be done about using Internet voting in the future.  Perhaps it is a tide that can not be turned back, but better security then will be a must.   As we learn more about what happened, the process will need to be refined and understood.

In a similar vein the Conservatives also came out of this Convention damaged.  The timing and nature of this online attack on the NDP right in the middle of the Robocalls scandal could not have been worse for the Conservatives.  The general public has already been primed to believe that they will cheat to disrupt their political opponents.  Regardless of who did it (and I personally do not think it was the Conservatives) they have undoubtedly added to the public perception of Conservatives as cheaters.  Whatever the outcome of the investigation, all too many citizens will link these incidents in their minds.

Similarly the Bob Rae Party…  Excuse me, I mean the Liberal Party and “interim” Leader Bob Rae have also been damaged by the NDP Convention.  Thomas Mulcair has already been an effective Parliamentarian and has the ability to be a very effective Opposition Leader, robbing Bob Rae of his status as Leader of the Unofficial Opposition.  Similarly, given that the Liberals appear set to crown another Leader rather than having an open and fair process, in stark contrast to NDP, the Liberals have once again confirmed in the minds of Canadians that they really don’t stand for all that much.  Which is disappointing.

Thomas Mulcair, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition 

Thus far Thomas Mulcair has hit the ground running.  He has opened his Leadership with an excellent first performance as Leader in the House and targeting the Conservatives on the important economic issues of the day is the best way for the NDP to establish credibility.  The Robocall scandal will handle itself for now and can be left to the rest of the front bench.

Many of his modernization ideas are important and having the conversation will benefit the NDP.  More over, a political party is never one man.  On those issues where we disagree (and I definitely disagree with him on some important issues) we still have the context of the party to work within.

At the end of the day, while all New Democrats hoped that it would be Jack Layton there, taking this government to task, Thomas Mulcair is a worthy successor.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Agustin permalink
    Wednesday March 28, 2012 5:50 pm

    I think we are not hearing enough about what the NDP convention (and its results) means for the Liberal party of Canada, and in turn for the Canadian parliamentary paradigm.

    I fear we have two strong party leaders (in Harper and Mulcair) who would both dearly love to witness the death of the Liberals. In my opinion this would be to the detriment of Canada – not because I am a fan of the Liberals in particular, but because I am especially not a fan of two-party politics and the polarization it will likely lead to.

    The same role that the NDP have played for years as moderators for Liberal and Conservative power (with varying success over time) needs to be played by another party now that the NDP have formed official opposition. Whether you like them or not, the Liberals are the only party currently poised to play such a role.

    Here’s hoping that Thomas Mulcair’s first act as prime minister is to implement some form of proportional representation.

    • Wednesday March 28, 2012 6:18 pm

      Thank you for your comment! In the near future, I will be writing specifically on how NDP members should handle the proportional representation issue and how I hope we can see a new political paradigm unfold in this country.

      • Agustin permalink
        Wednesday March 28, 2012 6:54 pm

        I look forward to it. Cheers!

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