Tuesday, March 27, 2012

NDP 2012 Convention Recap

As promised last week I will offer some reflections on the NDP Leadership Convention. This was the first political convention (or any convention) that I have attended. I have never spent much time in downtown Toronto, so that experience was a first as well. The NDP convention was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, which very successfully makes you feel dwarfed by your surroundings.

After passing through registration I made my way to the 700-level where the various campaigns had their headquarters. On the way into the building I passed volunteers from the campaigns greeting me and performing demonstrations to drum up support. By my assessment the Peggy Nash supporters were particularly vocal and prominent in the hall. I quickly connected with the Nathan Cullen campaign staff and expressed my desire to volunteer. I was assigned some small tasks and did my part until about lunchtime.

The convention formally opened and I took my spot in the Cullen section. After the opening remarks the candidate showcase began. I was sent to a different part of the hall, along with a handful of others, to spread Mr. Cullen’s support around. I found Nathan Cullen’s address to the convention to be quite good, and unusual. He spoke without a podium, or notes of any kind. Later media reports would confirm my thoughts, but I am biased anyway.

The showcases were a bit tiring. I felt I got a different perspective of the candidates on the floor from the position of the media and viewers at home. I think delegates may get swept up in the thrill of the crowd. Dozens of screaming supporters tends to change the energy. That being said Peggy Nash’s poor timing and Thomas Mulcair’s rushed delivery was evident – especially when I tried to keep up with his French.

After the first round of balloting was the tribute to Jack Layton. I expected an emotional affair, and I was not wrong. The videos were the most touching aspect, to my mind, and Olivia Chow’s remarks were quite moving, along with the speech by Sarah and Mike Layton. After a brief drink at the Cullen post-convention party I returned to Brampton.

Saturday was the big day. I arrived early and was quickly put to work by the Cullen campaign staff. I was among the greeters to delegates and media coming off an escalator. The supporters gathered to meet Mr. Cullen in the lobby and marched with him into the convention hall with him leading the way chanting. The first ballot was an incredibly exciting moment. As the pundits stated the big questions were 1 – what order would the NDP candidates fall (first, second, third...), and 2 – how much support would Mulcair have? When it was revealed Nash was in fourth, so that Cullen was third (or higher) the section started going crazy. There was an incredible surge of excitement.

I won’t go in-depth into the ballot by ballot action, that’s all readily available. There was a great deal of excitement after first ballot and a lot of discussion broke out. People would come by the headquarters and ask to learn more about Nathan Cullen, or his policies. Helping pull in Ashton and Dewar voters became part of my job. After the second ballot the same thing happened with Nash supporters.

The issues with the voting system were incredibly frustrating. I stood in line for about forty-five minutes. At one point I was interviewed by a CityTV reporter about the issues in voting and I expressed my frustration. I imagine the tag under my name in the broadcast may have read “Disgruntled Voter”.

Regardless, Mr. Cullen was eliminated on the third ballot and we quickly began voting on the fourth, where I cast my ballot for Thomas Mulcair. At the convention a British Columbia MLA, Michelle Mungall - a Brian Topp supporter, bent my ear on making Topp my second choice. Sadly, she didn’t win me over, but it was strange to be shooting the breeze with a BC MLA. The place was crawling with politicians and media. It was really amazing, and I must admit to being star-struck by the presence of so many people I only see on TV.

Conventions generate quite intense emotion, and the feeling of a team. After Cullen was eliminated his supporters returned to his headquarters to watch CBC’s coverage. Not long after voting got underway Cullen gave his interviews, if you have not seen it, I strongly recommend watching. It was a sad moment for many, and I felt deeply disappointed. In those moments you really believe your candidate, and your team can win. There were a lot of tears from the volunteers, and a lot of applause for Nathan Cullen’s remarks.

Not long after Tom Mulcair was declared the winner and the new Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Overall, I am pleased by Mr. Mulcair’s win, and I believe he will serve the party well. He is well positioned to oppose the current Conservative government and, with luck and a lot of hard work, form government in 2015.

I must admit now that there is a certain quiet now that I am not enjoying. My Twitterfeed is no longer bursting with #NDPldr updates, and there is not that excitement of an election. I suppose the next step is for me to figure out how I want to contribute to the party in between now and the next election. Do I want to merely observe the debate and volunteer when the election draws near, or do I want to actively participate in the intervening three years? If I return to Brampton when I finished my Master’s Degree there will be a number of new riding associations, and the NDP will need to build new support systems and executives there, and I think I’ll try to become part of that process.

However, just because the NDP leadership race is over does not mean things are boring. This week the Ontario and federal budgets come out, an Ontario court has made brothels legal and Alberta just called an election! It’s still a good time to be a political junkie and a New Democrat.

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