Some Thoughts on the Federal NDP Leadership Race

I haven’t written a lot about the federal NDP leadership race although I have been following it fairly closely.  With the recent (and unfortunate) withdrawal of Romeo Saganash, there are seven candidates left in the race.

My friend, the Accidental Jurist, has been keeping tabs and after today’s French-language debate, posted his latest rankings of each candidate’s chances of taking the top prize.  (See also Simple Massing Priest for another Saskie perspective on the race.)

I honestly haven’t decided who I’m going to support as my top choice and also how I’ll rank my ballot.  I can see so many advantages for each of the candidates – even lower profile ones like Martin Singh or less fluently bilingual ones like Paul Dewar.

So here’s my brief thoughts on each of the other candidates and why they might appeal (or not appeal) to me as I consider how I’ll vote…

Niki Ashton
Most of the more politically involved folks I know in Saskatchewan have gathered behind Niki Ashton’s campaign.  And looking back at the checklist of qualifications I wanted in the next leader back in August of last year, she checks off pretty much every single one.  Plus I can all but guarantee that she’ll be the only federal NDP candidate to have set foot in my small hometown during this race (albeit a few weeks before she officially announced.)

But then, that was my personal list of what I was looking for.  As I think about the choices, I’m also trying to think about what’s best for the party and what’s also best for the country and each of the candidates brings different strengths and weaknesses.  Here are some quick-hit impressions and there are many places online to get more in-depth analysis.

Nathan Cullen
After his last couple debate performances, I am increasingly liking Nathan Cullen and contrary to many NDP’ers, think that his plan for one-off cooperation for the Liberals to defeat the Cons is an idea with great merit.  The Liberals basically had a decade of uninterrupted power in the 1990’s partly due to the fragmentation of the right.  That wasn’t nearly as disastrous as would be the case if the Harper Cons got a few terms in power due to vote-splitting on the left-centre.  So I think it’s a potentially powerful idea to coordinate efforts once, get Harper out, bring in proportional representation for future elections and let the chips otherwise fall where they may in 2015.  (Leaning towards cooperation comes from the same mixed emotion I felt on election night when I realised that the NDP’s historic breakthrough meant they ended up in a less powerful position then they previously did as the pivot in the minority government.)  Although this race is not about replacing Jack Layton, Cullen has been called the candidate who best displays the easy-going, folksy charm of the party’s last leader.

Thomas Mulcair
Believe it or not, not everyone who lives in Quebec cheers for the Habs (just as not everyone in Ontario cheers for the Leafs (or Sens) or everyone in BC cheers for the Canucks) and similarly, I’m not a huge fan of this idea that the next leader has to have Quebec roots and that will somehow guarantee the NDP holds the gains in that province by default.  If anything, Quebeckers are probably the most progressively minded people in all of Canada so selling the progressive message, whoever the leader, shouldn’t be that difficult.  With that said, I like Mulcair for other reasons starting with the principled stand that brought him to the NDP in the first place, the fact that he was successful in creating the original NDP bulkhead then doing a lot of work to create the orange wave that swept the province.  Finally, I would say that he probably “looks the part” as much as any candidate and, whether you like it or not, that’s a big part of politics these days.

Paul Dewar
His French is the big strike against him  but I think he also comes across really well as a good mix of statesman and everyman.

Brian Topp
Topp is quite obviously the establishment choice and also, like Niki Ashton, checks off many of the points on my list.  The way he combines a connection to both Quebec and the West in a way no other candidate does is a huge selling point in my mind.  But like Dewar, he has one big strike against him.  In this case, that he’s never held political office and there are concerns about how successful he would be in making the transition.

Peggy Nash
I’ve got to be honest.  Though I’m following the race, I haven’t really seen much from Peggy Nash that’s made her stand out compared to the other candidates.  I don’t know why – she’s obviously got a strong background and great qualifications.  But I feel like part of what I’m looking for is something unique to latch on to – a personal story or experience or roots that provides a “hook” for the candidate – both for myself but also that would help connect the candidate to other Canadians.

Martin Singh
I’m on record as not being a fan of identity politics in general.  But at the same time, I’m really glad that Mr. Singh (and previously, Mr. Saganash) were in this race to show the broad appeal of the party (and since I’m riffing on identity politics, I feel obligated to note the important role of the female candidates too.  And of course, Mr. Topp and Mr. Cullen battling for the folically-challenged vote.  Okay, I’ll stop.)  Anyhow, with that dangerous ramble out of the way, I think Mr. Singh has mostly come across as a one-note candidate – “the NDP and (small) business are not mutually exclusive” – an important note but probably not the main one people want to hear – especially again and again.

So there you go.  As I said, I haven’t decided on how I’ll vote in the end but the way I’ve listed the candidates on this page – from Ms. Ashton on down to Mr. Singh – is probably a pretty close representation of how I’m feeling right now (ask me tomorrow and that could change of course!)

A reminder:  if you consider yourself progressively-minded or you were a fan of Jack Layton or you want a say in electing the next Prime Minister of Canada, you have until February 17 at 4:00pm to purchase or renew your NDP membership.   

Comments 2

  1. Malcolm+ wrote:

    1. Tanks for the plug.

    2. You might want to add a header for Niki. Although you actually name her first, on a quick scan, it actually looks like you left her out.

    Posted 13 Feb 2012 at 11:05 am
  2. Jason H. wrote:

    Thanks for the catch – I started out doing “stream of (un)consciousness” then it turned into a more formal list. I’ve changed Niki’s section so it has its own heading. Cheers!

    Posted 13 Feb 2012 at 2:59 pm

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From Head Tale - I’m Voting For Nathan Cullen (And If You Want Stephen Harper Gone, You Should Too!) on 13 Mar 2012 at 9:18 pm

    […] you go back to my initial (public) rankings a month ago, I had Nathan second after Niki Ashton (and in a ranking I did as a baseline at the start of the […]

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