The inner workings of the country’s political parties are deeply uninteresting to most Canadians. But ultimately, those internal debates are often extremely influential to the rest of us at election time.
For example, the federal New Democratic Party has just completed its debate on when to replace Thomas Mulcair, who lost a confidence vote at the party’s Edmonton convention last month.
Yesterday, the NDP’s large and influential national council opted for a late 2017 leadership contest to replace Mulcair.
This decision will have broad implications across Canadian politics. For the NDP, one downside of the decision is that it’s extremely difficult to raise money without a permanent leader in place. Uncommitted citizens are generally loath to part with their hard-earned dollars unless they know who’ll be leading the cause. While Mulcair’s bona fides in Parliament are quite respected, the public (and the majority of NDP delegates) have already rendered their verdict on his leading the party. Since Mulcair will be at the helm until September or October of 2017, the chances of the party’s ramping up their fundraising before then seem remote.
Also, for the more than half of New Democrats who didn’t want Mulcair remaining as leader, his continued presence as the “face of the party” may suit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals just fine.
However, there are also benefits to a long lead time before the next leadership convention. Had those who wanted a leadership vote this fall in order to turn the page quickly on the Mulcair era prevailed, the number of potential candidates would surely have been few. Only the best organized, already well-funded MPs would have been in a position to compete.
Now, with almost a year-and-a-half before the vote, many more candidates can kick the tires on a possible bid, opening the door (and presumably generating additional enthusiasm and interest) for a more hotly-contested affair.
What that means is that the leadership will probably see a wider variety of candidates – not just the most popular members of the NDP’s federal caucus. It gives the opportunity to some out-of-the-box candidates who otherwise might not have considered running.
For example, it’s been one of the worst kept secrets at Queen’s Park that Bramalea-Gore-Malton MPP Jagmeet Singh is considering a bid. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath gave him a promotion to deputy leader of the provincial caucus in order to keep him from bolting for the federal NDP earlier.
Singh is popular – he’s the only New Democrat MPP in all of the 905 ridings in Halton, Peel, and York. Like the current prime minister, he will never be confused for a policy wonk (presumably a more problematic factor in the NDP than in the Liberal Party). But also like the current prime minister, Singh has a winning personality and an ability to connect to average Ontarians that is well above most politicians.
The long lead time until the next convention also means the questions about Singh’s political intentions aren’t going to disappear for many, many months, no doubt irritating his colleagues at Queen’s Park.
Similarly, this also gives those who’d like to see Leap Manifesto co-author Avi Lewis join the race more time to convince him to do so. Lewis, the grandson and son of former federal and provincial NDP leaders, has forsworn any interest in running for the crown, insisting he’s seen politics chew up and spit out people for decades and has no interest in adding to the country’s political road kill. Plus, he says, he believes he can do more outside politics to influence the country’s agenda.
However, in a recent interview on TVO’s The Agenda, Lewis didn’t rule out a bid, should a national draft encouraging his candidacy happen:
That sounds, to me, like a guy keeping the door open just a tad.
In any event, now that the NDP’s internal authorities have made their decision, let the race begin in earnest.
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