Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Next NDP Leader?

It has been two months since the NDP convention in Edmonton and so far the NDP leadership race is still a relatively quiet affair. So far the NDP leadership race is a long list of no's and one sort of.

It is not unusual for leadership races to start off slowly. The Conservatives who have known longer that they will be in a leadership race have only three candidates declared and many of the major potential candidates have declined to formally enter the race yet. But unlike the NDP the major candidates for the Conservatives have not ruled out running.

The obvious place to begin with a leadership race is the last leadership race, especially given that it was only four years ago that Tom Mulcair was selected to be the leader.

Brian Topp came second to Mulcair and since then has been busy helping provincial parties, first in British Columbia and then in Alberta. He currently works for Rachel Notley. He was asked shortly after the convention and expressed no interest in leaving his current position in Alberta's government.

Nathan Cullen became the instant favourite and frontrunner. He came third in the leadership race proposing electoral reform and an agreement with the Liberals to win the 2016 election. He also had an easy humour and charm that appealed to New Democrats. I was one of his supporters at the convention. Cullen announced that he would not seek the nomination due to family concerns and that he wanted to focus on electoral reform in the House of Commons. That's admirable, in my opinion.

Peggy Nash was eliminated on the third ballot in 2012. Along with Brian Topp she was seen as the left-wing approach and was strongly supported by union activists. Nash lost her Toronto seat in the Liberal wave, which is certainly an impediment to a run. Perhaps more so is the fact that Cheri DiNovo (ONDP - Parkdale-High Park) has tipped her hat that she may enter the race. DiNovo backed Nash in the last leadership contest and it is unlikely that both women would not have consulted each other before making such a move.

Paul Dewar has not ruled out considering a run, but on April 28th he told the press that he "is not considering" a run. Dewar, like Nash, lost his Ottawa Centre seat in the Liberal wave. He was a serious and conscientious politician for the NDP but without a seat and his tepid interest I think it is unlikely that he'll enter the fray.

Martin Singh was the outsider who ran to replace Jack Layton. He was able to garner about 4000 supporters on the first ballot and immediately withdrew and threw in with Tom Mulcair. Singh used his profile to run for a seat in Brampton North, but was handily defeated, finishing third. It's possible he will run again.

Niki Ashton seems the most likely of the 2012 leadership contestants to run again. She represents a seat in Northern Manitoba and managed to hold on to her seat in the 2015 election. I'll do the foolish thing and predict that if she does enter she likely will not be the ultimate winner. In the 2012 race Ashton was a stiff, awkward performer. Watching her approach in the House I have a hard time imagining she has much improved on that front. Her pitch for the youth vote went nowhere.

Romeo Saganash was in the leadership race but withdrew from the convention. I was initially a supporter of his. However during the last session he had an incident on an airplane related to alcohol and admitted an addiction issue. Sadly I think that might preclude him from running again. Robert Chisholm withdrew from the race due to a lack of support and his insufficient ability in French.

Pretty dismal. So what about others?  

Peter Julian (NDP - New Westminster-Burnaby, BC) has not ruled out a run (as far as I can tell). He has been on the NDPs front bench for many years and is a prominent critic on important files. With Cullen out of the race that leaves British Columbia wide open.

Alexandre Boulerice (NDP - Rosemont-La Petitie-Patrie, QC) is Quebec's Peter Julian. He was elected in the Orange Wave and maintained his seat. He was an outspoken critic of the last government and passionate. He might be the only candidate to come out of Quebec for the leadership race, which is certainly an asset.

Jagmeet Singh (ONDP - Bramalea-Gore-Malton) was elevated to deputy leader in Ontario to prevent him running federally, or so the rumour goes. Perhaps the opportunity to give the big job a shot will be too much to resist. He is young and has a passionate following in Ontario, and certainly could pull voters away from Trudeau on that front.

I've already gone on a while but I just wish to conclude with what I want to see in the leadership race. I think the NDP needs to do a better job walking the talk when it comes to representing all Canadians. The current caucus is very white.  I want the leadership race to better represent the diversity of this country and perhaps select a leader who represents the New Canada, as it is sometimes called, that the NDP claims to speak for. One person I would love to see get into the race is Desmond Cole, he is an activist, commentator and writer in Toronto, but unlikely to enter the race. Laurin Liu was a Quebec NDP MP from 2011-2015, she was a passionate advocate and fluent in French, English and Cantonese. She's very young, but perhaps we should consider how much that matters at present. Jenny Kwan is a new MP from Vancouver, but has a long history in British Columbia. She has experience and might bring something fresh to the race. I'd also like to see Indigenous Canadians represented in the race, but no candidate comes to mind.

That by no means is an exhaustive list. I just wanted to propose some names because I am sometimes frustrated how many people seem to want to back the children of politicians in the NDP. Niki Ashton is the daughter of a NDP politician, Bill Blaikie's daughter became party president and his son is a MP, people are looking at Mike Layton to run and follow in his father's footsteps and Avi Lewis (of the Leap Manifesto) gets a lot of heft because his father is Stephen Lewis. I want fresh blood and new ideas, not a social club for leftists. Hopefully we some movement in the race in the next couple of months, otherwise the leadership may be the prize no one wants. 

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