Reviewing Mulcair's Leadership: Will Tom Mulcair win the leadership review at the NDP convention next weekend? What will the result, either way, mean for the federal NDP? Tom Parkin, Richard Mahoney and John Capobianco with their thoughts.
There really are two fundamental questions facing Thomas Mulcair in the upcoming leadership review vote.
The first is foundational, philosophical and has to do with a debate that has been raging within the NDP for a long time. What kind of a political party or movement do they want to be? On one side are people who view the NDP's role as a political party in the Canadian mold - a truly national party that houses within it the capacity to govern nationally and all the compromises and practical realities that confront such an entity.
On the other hand, many feel the NDP has to be a movement for change based around some bedrock principles. Many of those folks were disappointed that Mulcair and the party leadership chose the former route in the last election, and in so doing, watered down the party's appeal to its base.
In many ways, both are right. Mulcair's promise of a balanced budget was not only wishful thinking, as subsequent events have proven; it put him and the NDP on the wrong side of a lot of progressive Canadians who wanted serious change.
But the question of where you come down on that question probably defines the vote in many ways. The movement progressives and folks who signed the "Leap" manifesto will be for review. The practical politicos who want to do what they think they need to do to win government will support Mulcair. We'll see whether the latter form a clear majority or not.
I am attending the convention and will be voting to keep Tom Mulcair, but I will try to be fair to the arguments of those who oppose him. I also want to point to some other important currents that I don't think many outside the party understand.
As always, there are several narratives that compete for dominance in a situation like this.
There is a straightforward line of thinking that Tom Mulcair lost, that he is a spent force and he needs to resign.
The fact that he lost is not compelling, in my opinion. The idea that he is a spent force - that is he will never be able to redeem himself to the progressive movement and the media is also dubious. The latter part of the argument is really self-fulfilling for those who oppose him. Keep complaining about him and providing a negative narrative and the case proves itself. So that one's really a logical dodge.
There is the argument that Tom Mulcair moved to the right and must be removed for it. That also has some problems.
First, to hold that point you'd have to ignore the platform - childcare, pharma-care, corporate tax increases, limiting stock option deductibility, increase minimum wages, etc. It was a pretty radical platform - much more so that the Liberals'.
To hold that point you'd also really have to hold exclusively to the balanced budget issue. But there are problems there, too.
The problem with the reliance on the budget argument is three-fold.
(1) Mulcair promised to balance the budget by increasing taxes, compared to the Liberals who are running deficits in part because they cut taxes.
(2) Social democrats well know what happens when deficits run out of control - it's called Paul Martin austerity. So there is a natural constituency with social democracy for balanced budget approaches.
(3) Balanced budgets are party policy, passed at convention. They've been part of every platform since 1993.
So all in all, there is are a lot of counterpoints to the attack on Tom.
Let's have a little more discussion and then I'll come to the reasons I believe he should stay on.
When a party has to go through a leadership review process, it can be tough on not only the leader, but on his or her caucus and party members themselves since it really is a judgment call on the job the leader did in the most recent campaign. Most political parties have in their constitutions a clause that states a review is mandatory when the party experiences an election loss, as was the case with the NDP. So they will be facing a leadership review of Mr. Mulcair this coming weekend.
The Conservatives were spared that when Stephen Harper decided to step down as leader the night of the election. Having been through a few leadership reviews myself, I would rather be watching than participating as the NDP will be meeting this weekend and deciding whether they believe Mr. Mulcair is the one to take them to the next election and beyond.
Richard brings up some very strong points on the dilemma that will be before the delegates and how they see themselves as a party and, more importantly, how they will see Mr. Mulcair fitting into their vision.
However, Tom is making a strong case above and will no doubt make an equally strong case in favour, which is why I can see this leadership review coming down to whether Mr. Mulcair gets the “magic” number needed to stay.
As John mentions, the other big question for this weekend, once people have decided where they come down on Mulcair's leadership, is this one: how much is enough to show he has the support of his party?
In every review, I have seen since Joe Clark's legendary mistake of 1983, the approach of the leader and his or her team has been to stick to the rules in the constitution. That is to say that, as long as a majority of delegates vote against a review, the leader is entitled to stay. That is the purpose of the provision - a protection against a leader who has clearly lost the confidence of his or her party staying on.
That said, we have come to accept that, in practice, leaders need more than a narrow majority. I was surprised that Mulcair and his team have accepted a higher bar. Higher than it likely needs to be, I think. Rebecca Blaikie, President of the NDP, set the bar at 70 per cent. In other words, if 69.9 per cent of NDP delegates vote to keep Mulcair, then many will say he has to go. She did him no favours by doing so and Mulcair and his team did themselves no favours by not pushing back.
It is hard to see how this ends well for him unless he gets a number clearly above Blaikie's bar. Good luck, Tom!
I tried to offer some of the anti-Mulcair lines of attack and why, in my mind, they just don't do it.
But I am quite enthusiastic about supporting Mulcair. Let me explain why.
There are Tom's character and attributes. His policy grasp, his determination, his hard work, his language skills, his support among Quebecers (one third of the caucus is from Quebec.) There are many. You get the drift.
Second, there is the question of labour and caucus support. Even if the leader had 95 per cent of the support of the membership, it's not worth much if he/she doesn't have the respect and support of caucus. Tom does. In particular, he has the support of the Quebec caucus. He has the support of the major unions and that's important too.
But third and most important is the opportunity for transformation.
What this election revealed was that much of the 2011 victory was built on sand. Under Jack Layton the party professionalized greatly. But it was Jack's party run by Jack's guard. And it didn't integrate; it tended to a "to-the-victors-go-the-spoils" approach.
So, for example, the balanced budget policy was pushed through. It was never really discussed. It was a point of loyalty. And as long as Jack was winning people were willing to go along.
That approach was a historic NDP approach, quite elite and something the European socialist parties are also suffering from.
In this day, elite parties of the left make no sense.
There is now a new crew in charge. A new Chief of Staff, new Leader's Office directors. New NDP HQ directors. Karl Belanger is now National Director. We are about to elect a new President and Vice-President.
The party is already developing structures of organization and communication that are far more grassroots that I've ever seen. There is a distance to go, but the start is there.
And on the policy front, the NDP is not a party of elite accommodation. We can be accommodative - to Richard's point - but in our style of party it needs to be agreed to - to be debated and then supported.
So this is where new debates - on balanced budgets, on jobs, etc. - could allow for a new solidarity of the movement based more on consent than loyalty.
Tom Mulcair has said repeatedly he is open to this transformation. The people in his office are not just from the "Tom tribe," they're from the broad NDP.
So we will move forward with Tom.
But if there is a leadership review, it will be back to the tribalism and loyalty. Discussion will be replaced with sloganeering and our underlying policy, organization and communications weaknesses won't be addressed.
That's the opportunity that Tom's continued leadership presents. I think it's absolutely needed.
That is what everyone will be watching – the percentage of support the leader gets, which is to say the number of delegates against a review. The official number is 50 per cent plus one, but that will likely not be the case. As Richard states, the Conservatives have faced this issue when Joe Clark was under review and he received 66.9 per cent support and he himself decided that wasn’t enough and called for a leadership campaign. Many since then have used that as a bar, which I think is silly.
Although technically 50.1 per cent is enough, that will not do as the leader will face significant challenges on a daily basis within his or her party, not to mention the media – and it will not go away after the convention if it is that close. The NDP itself (the party president) has kind of set a bar at 70 per cent, which is about the right number to get the media and dissenters off the leader’s back.
However, I think anything over 60% should be enough and will lead to a massive healing process that will inevitably take place.
Tom, this will be an important weekend for your party as it defines itself and decides the direction it wants to take and if Mr. Mulcair is the right leader.
The Liberals have effectively taken the centre-left position, which causes the NDP significant grief, so I wish you well - Richard and I will be watching.