Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Countdown to the NDP Convention

On Friday the New Democratic Party’s Leadership Convention opens in Toronto. As I have mentioned before I will be attending the convention as a delegate. The fascinating thing about Canadian leadership contests is that they are typically very unstable and unpredictable events. My reading of events says that there are three candidates who are likely to win the leadership, but five candidates that have a real possibility. Given that there are only seven candidates that is a shocking statement.

The odds-on favourite to win is Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC). It is arguable that he would have the broadest base of mainstream support, and has the highest name recognition in Canada. Polling information indicates that he would restore the NDP to the place it was at inthe May 2011.

The other candidates that I think have a shot to win, by likelihood, is Peggy Nash (NDP – Parkdale-High Park, ON), Nathan Cullen (NDP - Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC), Paul Dewar (NDP – Ottawa Centre, ON), and Brian Topp (NDP President).

The blogger at democraticSpace, Greg Morrow,offered the following prediction for how the balloting might go down on Saturday, but it is only an educated guess. This is what he estimates:

Mulcair – 31-33%
Nash – 18-20%
Cullen – 14-16%
Dewar – 13-15%
Topp – 12-14%
Ashton – 3-5%
Singh – 1-3%
Saganash – 0-2%

Mulcair 34-36%
Nash 21-24%
Cullen 16-18%
Dewar 13-15%
Topp 9-11%

Mulcair 37-39%
Nash 27-29%
Cullen 18-20%
Dewar 14-16%

Mulcair 42-44%
Nash 36-38%
Cullen 21-23%

Mulcair 54-56%
Nash 44-46%

This is the likely scenario, but what happens at conventions is often the unlikely and unexpected. The battle between Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae in 2006 at the Liberal Leadership Convention resulted in a Stephane Dion victory.

The real unknown, in mine and others’ estimation, is the candidate I’m backing, Nathan Cullen. Mr. Cullen has seen a dramatic spike in fundraising since January. PunditsGuide broke down the numbers for fundraising and its implication for momentum. But more importantly, I think, Mr. Cullen has effectively presented himself in the media and in the debates which will leave him high in the preferences of NDP members. I can imagine that Mr. Cullen will be the second or third choice for a number of voters who initially back Niki Ashton, Paul Dewar and perhaps others.

Interestingly, according to the party, there are estimates that over 70% of the members will have voted before the convention begins. The cake will be baked. The result will almost surely be set before a single ballot is cast in real-time at the convention. Peter O’Neil of the Vancouver Sun argued that Nathan Cullen is the wildcard in this race, and I am inclined to agree. If Mr. Cullen places third (or higher) on the first ballot I think he may be able to gather enough support to win the nomination, resulting in a total upset. John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail made the point the most starkly – Tom Mulcair will almost definitely win the nomination...maybe. Pundits' wisdom was made to be proven wrong.

Before concluding this piece I think perhaps I should elaborate on why Nathan Cullen is my choice to lead the NDP. I believe that Mr. Cullen has the personality, style and temperament to bring the NDP from Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition into Government. His approach may win over those Liberal, Green and Conservative voters or apathetic citizens who did not participate. His effort to run a positive campaign, rooted in ideas and social media has been quite impressive.

The ideas behind Mr. Cullen’s campaign were what won me over. In this blog I repeatedly talk about the desperate need for democratic reform in Canada, which is something Mr. Cullen has discussed since the very beginning. I believe that when he says he wants to see a change in our democracy he means it, and that he will push for real reform. He says it will be the first piece of legislation when he is elected Prime Minister, and that is what I have been waiting to hear from a leader. Furthermore, Mr. Cullen’s policies on northern development and our energy economy have captured my imagination and convinced me of the urgent need to change course on several key policy fronts.

A few weeks ago I reflected on the census and discussed the shifting westward of our politics. Mr. Cullen is a westerner from British Columbia, and I believe he can speak to their concerns and expand the NDP support in the critical four provinces west of Ontario. It is my opinion that if the NDP form government in 2015 it will be through winning Quebec and substantial seats in the West, coupled with small gains in the Maritimes and Ontario. The NDP must win seats not just in British Columbia, but Alberta and Saskatchewan if it ever hopes to form government. Mr. Cullen may have what it takes to appeal to rural and suburban voters and bring the NDP the necessary support to bring the party to the next step.

Finally, Mr. Cullen’s controversial cooperation plan. I believe the plan has real merit, but I do not imagine it will go anywhere. The Liberal Party is not interested, at the moment, in building that kind of support, even though it basically did a cooperation plan in 2008 with the Green Party in two ridings. However, the cooperation plan may send the correct signals to progressive voters that the NDP is building a broad, substantial coalition. This would be critical to building support in Toronto and the GTA, and tight seats in the West. The optics may be all positive for the NDP and all negative for the Liberals. Not to mention even if the Liberals are unwilling the Greens probably will be to protect their one seat.

I probably won’t cover the convention in real-time simply because I do not have a Smart Phone. Next Tuesday I will hopefully be able to offer some insight into the event and the outcome. See you in Toronto!

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