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Where does the NDP go from here? Tom Mulcair's out after failing a bruising leadership review, and the controversial LEAP Manifesto is up for discussion throughout the NDP. Where does that leave Canada's New Democrats going forward? With their insights, Tom Parkin, Richard Mahoney and John Capobianco.

 






Tom Parkin:

Sometimes when you go canvassing in an election you find the voters are strangely quiet. You ask for their support - and they say nice things, but they won't commit. You try to push them a bit harder, but they stay quiet. The Edmonton NDP Convention was like that.

In my experience, when there's a trend of people who won't give you anything about their political preference - no matter how you try to probe - it means they've already made up their mind, they just don't want to say it.

In Edmonton, there was little actual discussion between delegates about Tom Mulcair. Tight lipped. There was no one launching attacks on him. No one much talking at all.

I think the delegates had, for months, been looking for a sign that Tom Mulcair had understood the reasons for the loss and was developing an agenda of change - for internal operations and vision - that would put the NDP back on the right path.

Unfortunately, Tom never gave them that agenda for change. So they decided they would get someone who could.

In many ways, Marit Stiles' election as President of the federal NDP is a reflection on this. In every way, Marit (a former ONW Salon panelist) is a mainstream social democrat, not a leftist or a Blairite.

But she clearly told people that the way the party was going to operate had to change - and that she would lead that change. I don't know the vote numbers, but I am very sure Marit swamped the others because she had an agenda to fix the problems that caused the election defeat.

The party will elect a new leader within two years. Federal council will likely set the date in May. Until there is a new leader, I think NDP members are very fortunate that Tom Mulcair has agreed to stay on. He is an excellent Parliamentarian, known throughout Canada, and can hold the Liberals to account.

After Jack Layton's death we had a very good interim leader, but the party still sank because she didn't have the profile. I watch Facebook and elsewhere as New Democrat after New Democrat - who had been for and against Mulcair - reiterated how fortunate we are that Tom has not decided to just hang up the skates and enjoy his summer golf season.

 

John Capobianco:

What a weekend for the NDP in Edmonton! My thoughts are with my friend, Tom (Parkin) who now has to deal with the reality of what happened to his leader and his party. I must admit I was totally riveted to CPAC watching the proceedings on Sunday – well, I was flipping between the convention and the Masters. Ironically, both had tragic endings and the results were almost an hour apart (tragic in that Jordan Spieth had a five stroke lead that he blew on the back nine to lose the Masters).

I felt badly for both of them. However, I do want to congratulate my friend and a former panelist on this august Salon – Marit Stiles, who won the NDP presidency on Sunday.

Since the convention, there has been much conjecture and analysis about whether Mr. Mulcair lost the battle the day after the election defeat, or going into the convention, or whether he lost it during the convention with his failure to be attuned to the mood of the delegates.

As Tom Parkin suggests above, there seemed to have been little discussion or interaction amongst the leader with the delegates. In fact, on TV watching the proceedings, it seemed that Mr. Mulcair was either sitting up front or absent when crucial votes were taking place.

I can tell you I was very surprised by the number. On these pages last week we were debating what the magic number of support Mr. Mulcair was going to receive and, if it was below 70%, what was his personal target for him to stay on as leader. I certainly didn’t expect it would be less than 50% since no other political leader has ever received less than 50% support from his or her party. From the reaction of Mr. Mulcair’s staff, his caucus and Mr. Mulcair himself, I don’t think they were expecting that as well.

So now the rebuilding takes place - to Tom Parkin, both Richard and I have been through this many times. It does get better and it will for you and your party.

 

Richard Mahoney:

Reading and hearing Tom Parkin's observations on what it was like this weekend ring true to me. I have been involved in two organized efforts to defend leadership review campaigns: one on behalf of John Turner in 1986 (I was a child, really) when he faced efforts to remove him as leader, and the other on behalf of Dalton McGuinty in 2002, who faced a similar challenge from elements in the Ontario Liberal Party.

They are difficult battles within the wider "family" that is a political party. As Tom Parkin observes, people sometimes just don't want to tell you they are voting to dump the leader you both once supported. You face opposition from friends and allies who share your view of politics, and with who, months earlier, you were working alongside in a general election. It is tough.

But what we saw this weekend was different in a few ways.

First, and most importantly, this has never happened before in Canadian politics. We have never seen the removal of a leader by popular vote of his own party.

Leaders have left when they felt their time was up, or when they didn't think they had sufficient support to continue, but none has ever actually lost a leadership review vote. It was just a few months ago, at the beginning of the federal election campaign, that Tom Mulcair rode high in the polls and was on the cusp of forming a government, quite possibly a majority government. His leadership now lies in ashes, and the future of his party is now a gigantic question mark.

My first question is, why did he not see this coming? Where was the effort to organize and rally support at the riding level - to bring delegates to the convention that supported his leadership and his plan to rebuild? It was like he didn't really try to do that. And it is hard to understand why.

Secondly, as others have observed, Mulcair was no lifelong NDPer, who came of age in New Democrat party politics. He was an interloper to many, a former provincial Liberal in Quebec. In the end, they treated him like one, and it seemed shockingly brutal.

 

Tom Parkin:

Good observations, John and Richard.

I don't think Tom necessarily lost the leadership on election night. He lost it in the months after when he failed to provide the plan for the way back. Simply accepting responsibility isn't enough. Delegates wanted a plan.

Tom got - as I recall - over 90% approval at the Montreal 2013 convention. Three years later, only 48%. I believe there was an implicit contract made when he was elected - "New Democrats will make you leader because you can win government." Tom broke that contract on Oct 19 and the members sued for breech.

Which now goes to some deeper points.

New Democrats are no longer interested in being the conscience of the government. Almost to a person, New Democrats' goal is to elect a government with a conscience.

This is now a political party that is far more self-assured - even though it lost - of its shared values and electoral purpose.

Hence the breech of contract.

The NDP has now won government in six provinces and a territory. And it has a base in Quebec. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, this is a far stronger party, a national party, and a pan-Canadian party.

I will absolutely predict that electability will be a key factor in the upcoming leadership. We are now searching for someone who can appeal to the many diverse parts of the NDP voting coalition - the downtowner latte-drinkers, the resource roughnecks, the feminists, people fighting discrimination, young people seeking opportunity. The leader's vision will need to accommodate all this.

And critically, the NDP will have to accommodate the ambition of Rachel Notley to turn a single election into a permanent change in Alberta. Rachel is the most progressive, most pro-environment Premier Alberta has ever had. Without her climate change work, Justin Trudeau would have nothing to show.

So - LEAP. This will be a discussion. The NDP is not afraid of discussion and I think that is fantastic. The challenge of discussion will lead to a social democratic vision that will drive the 2019 election and dislodge Richard's party from government - or at least that's the plan.

The NDP did not vote to adopt LEAP - and it never will. It will create something of its own.

Finally, a bit more on Marit Stiles. Given that the leader has little authority over the party, Marit and the party executive will have a good deal o autonomy. That is a good thing. Even Tom Mulcair said the party needs to open up. Unfortunately he did not provide a specific plan. That will now be the party's job.

It starts by engaging more people in the decision-making processes of the party - priorizing resolutions, for example. Perhaps giving all members a vote on the leadership review, not just the convention. Perhaps it means a new support category, like your party, Richard. It will definitely mean our executive and council will be more strongly engaged in the party. It will be more of a party-driven effort with the support of party staff, less of a strictly staff-driven (or leader-driven) affair.

The NDP now has a plan set to remodel the party and revitalize the vision - in a pan-Canadian way. We are aiming at winning. Watch us go!

 

John Capobianco:

As some in the news have reported and Richard stated above, Mr. Mulcair was not treated as someone who had the NDP on the cusp of forming the government. Sure he lost it, and it sure seemed like he didn't do the work necessary leading up to the convention - and he and his team didn't seem to consider the seriousness of the Leap Manifesto supporters going into a leadership review convention in the province of Alberta. If they did, it certainly wasn't apparent watching the proceedings other than Mr. Mulcair stating that he would support it if the party did. After Premier Notley's impassioned speech rallying against the Manifesto, there was no course correction from the leader.

So Tom Parkin speaks very eloquently about the NDP and the challenges it faces, but more importantly, he suggests ideas on what the party can do to deal with the challenges. This is where it will be interesting to watch who decides to run for the leadership and what they will stand for given the hard left turn the delegates took at the convention.

My party is going through this right now, although Mr. Harper spared the party a leadership review vote - I suspect he would have likely met the review threshold - and it is about who will have the plan, vision and organizational ability to be ready to fight an election in 2019.

The NDP faces a Liberal government already occupying the centre-left and will need to determine how much more left is vacant enough to appease the LEAPers, who will obviously have significant influence over the selection of the next leader.

The total and complete repudiation of Mr. Mulcair by his party sent a strong message to those NDP supporters who were at the convention as delegates, but more to the point, they sent the same message to Canadians who were watching or paying attention.

 

Richard Mahoney:

Tom Parkin's observation on the implicit contract between NDP activists and Tom Mulcair - "we will make you leader, you will win the election" - seems right on to me.  

It also seems right that, while election night was a severe blow, Mulcair might well have survived had he presented a plan, as Tom says, and made an effort, as observed above.

What we are left with is a pretty big apparent divide between those who have always viewed the NDP as a pragmatic, progressive party capable of making the compromises and accommodations often required in a country of regional, linguistic and cultural diversity, and those who see it as a social movement on the left wing of Canadian politics with a sort of ideological purity reserved to themselves.

That battle will be joined in the leadership campaign. And Rachel Notley's gauntlet, that the ideas in the LEAP manifesto will "never be party policy" puts the LEAPers on notice: bring it on.

Who knows where this all leads? As Tom observes, having a vigorous internal debate can be a very healthy thing. And structural reform, as Trudeau did with the federal Liberals, can also be very important.

But it does feel like the federal NDP has a long way to go, and many issues to solve, before it credibly competes for government again, as it did in 2011 and 2015.

 

Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 

 

 

Posted date : April 13, 2016
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