Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Rankings and Thoughts on the NDP Leadership Race

Sorry it has been forever since I have written on this blog. I have been quite busy over the past while and also haven’t found enough motivation to write on here. I do intend to write more in the new year (I suppose I could call that a resolution, huh?). I’ve noticed in the past that people seem to really like my posts on religion and politics, so I’ll look to explore that more in the future. Please send me any suggestions for what you’d like me to cover, and I’ll take them into consideration.

I have been asked a number of times since the beginning of the federal NDP leadership race to give my thoughts on the various candidates. I have attempted to do that a few times, but Facebook comments and Twitter are not as conducive to fully explaining thoughts as is sometimes necessary.

First, I will go through each of the candidates and explain my impression of them. I do have a current ranking in mind that represents how I would vote if the leadership convention were held today. That said, my rankings are not final and will likely shift before March 24th. I hope to actually be at the leadership convention in Toronto at the end of March, but that depends on whether or not we’re in the middle of an election here in Alberta at the time (damn you, Premier Redford, for not picking a fixed election date!). Second, I will elaborate on what I have said in my explanations of my rankings by giving some thoughts generally on what we are or should be looking for, in my opinion, when we are choosing the next leader. If there are areas I fail to cover in this post or points that are not clear, please let me know, and I will do my best to fill those areas in.

I also want to say before I start that I’m going to be very candid in this post. While I don’t think we, as a party, want the leadership race to be divisive, we do need to talk about the differences between the candidates if we’re going to choose the best leader. I hope I don’t offend anyone with my criticisms. That is not my intention. I think all of these candidates are or will make great MPs and/or cabinet ministers. I also want to say that I’ve been making my best effort to see each of the candidates as they come to Edmonton for the Edmonton-Strathcona NDP’s “Kitchen Table Talks” series. So far I’ve made it to the talks with Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Robert Chisolm, and Brian Topp. Unfortunately, I missed the one with Peggy Nash. I’ll be attending the talks with Thomas Mulcair (event here: and Niki Ashton (event here: in the coming week or so and hopefully to Romeo Saganash and Martin Singh once they’re confirmed. Happy reading!

I will start my rankings from last to first, since I think it’s easier for me to talk about my top pick while contrasting him with the others.

8. Thomas Mulcair

Mulcair is one of two candidates at the bottom of my list because there are things about him that make me believe his leadership of the party would be disastrous. He is the only candidate who would cause me to question my party affiliation if he were leader of the party. For some New Democrats, it is enough that he was once a Liberal for him to be placed at the bottom of their lists. For me, that isn’t a factor. As a former Liberal myself, I can’t level that criticism at anyone. I do think we should be welcoming former Liberals into our party.

There are a number of other things that put Mulcair firmly at the bottom of my list. The first is the way he treated NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies after she was caught in a “gotcha” interview speaking in favour of boycotts of Israel and saying the occupation of Palestine goes back to 1948. Instead of treating Davies like a fellow party member, Mulcair decided to publicly denounce her. I have been told on at least one occasion by a federal party insider that Mulcair is one of the reasons why the NDP has such a nuanced position on Israel-Palestine. A Google search of “Mulcair Israel” will bring up many of the concerns about his position on the conflict. His public denunciation of Davies was not his only divisive statement in the media. Since before he formally entered the leadership race, he has repeatedly made unnecessary public statements complaining either about the party generally (low membership levels in Quebec, union ties) or specific candidates (his ongoing public questioning of the character of fellow candidate Brian Topp).

Lastly, Mulcair’s inability to understand Alberta or to make the province a priority (not sure if it’s one of those or both) cements his position in last place for me. Although it seems like he’s getting better, Mulcair was still calling Alberta’s oilsands the “tar sands” when he got to the first official NDP leadership debate. I’ll never forget the day in the 2011 election campaign that Jack Layton uttered those two words in Montreal during a policy announcement on the environment. It set off a storm across Alberta, most acutely for the NDP in the campaign offices for Edmonton-Strathcona, Edmonton East, and Edmonton Centre. After a few days of damage control, we did manage to get back on our game, but it was an unnecessary mistake. Mulcair seems not to have learned from it. He seems to be developing a little better understanding of policy when it comes to the oilsands, but he has already isolated himself in the minds of many Albertans because of his statement in the first debate. It’ll be interesting to see if he speaks any differently when he arrives in Edmonton on Friday.

In sum, the problem with Mulcair is that there are too many problems with Mulcair, and these are not major problems. An NDP under his leadership will not be a united NDP, and I think it’s difficult to argue with that. A Mulcair win would divide the party. Either the face of the party would change to the point where it is no longer recognizable, or it would simply fade into irrelevance as many of those who supported Jack Layton’s NDP look for other alternatives.

7. Nathan Cullen

I had a good conversation with Nathan Cullen very shortly after he announced he was running for leader. He, along with all the other candidates declared at the time, visited Edmonton for the Alberta NDP’s annual Leader’s Levee fundraiser. I was extremely impressed with him. A few of my fellow Alberta New Democrat activists had already declared their support for him. He listened intently as a couple of us explained to him how sensitive an issue the oilsands is for Albertans of all political stripes. At that point, Cullen moved to number two on my list, behind Paul Dewar (oh no, I just gave away the ending!).

A few days later, Cullen announced his policy for “cooperation” with other “progressive parties” in Canada. I put “cooperation” in quotes because I don’t Cullen acts like his proposal is the only form of cooperation that fits the definition of the word. In fact, the NDP already does cooperate with other parties, including the Conservatives from time to time. We had minority Parliaments from 2004 to 2011. No law could be passed without at least one party cooperating with the Conservatives. The NDP also cooperated most significantly in the aftermath of the 2008 election with the Liberals and the Bloc, when we attempted to form a coalition government with the Liberal Party. That was cooperation.

Cullen’s proposal can also be defined as cooperation, but I think a more accurate term would be “non-competition”. His proposal is for the NDP, Liberals, and Greens to not compete with each other in some Conservative-held ridings. The problems with the proposal are many. Many concerns were raised when Cullen visited Edmonton for his Kitchen Table Talk earlier this winter. When asked what New Democrats would do in ridings where there is no NDP candidate, Cullen would not give a straight answer. He instead told the audience that the NDP would out-organize the other parties in his proposed joint nomination meetings. To me, that says this isn’t really about cooperating. It’s about trying to find clever ways to get more Liberals and Greens to support our candidates. If Cullen said that out front (or if he would say that at all), the policy would be a non-starter for many who see him as the uniter of all things not Conservative. Further, we should not be so arrogant as to think we can out-organize the Liberals EVERYWHERE. In Edmonton, and maybe all of Alberta, sure, I can see it. But I know other parts of the country are different. And maybe in a place like Edmonton Centre, where the Liberals held the seat with former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan until 2006, the Liberals would out-organize us, even though we placed second to the Conservatives with Lewis Cardinal’s campaign in 2011. If Cardinal lost a joint nomination meeting for the next election, would he line up all of his supporters and volunteers behind a Liberal? Would party members be okay with giving up the 60% election expense rebate candidates get if they receive over 10% of the vote? Assuming Cardinal’s campaign spends the same it did in last year’s election (approximately $71,000), the party would be giving up over $42,000 in that riding alone. Granted, we don’t spend that much money in every Conservative-held riding, but we did qualify for the rebate in 305 out of 308 ridings. And does that also mean we don’t build up any supporter lists in ridings where we don’t run candidates? Probably. I can’t imagine a Liberal campaign handing a list of supporters over to us. Which brings up another point. Are the Greens or Liberals interested in this proposal? If it were to work as Cullen says it will, both of those parties would need to pass resolutions at their own federal conventions to put the policy in place. Not to mention that the NDP would have to pass such a resolution. From my experiences at two federal NDP conventions, I can’t see the party membership passing such a resolution, even if we did elect Cullen leader.

None of the concerns I have listed were, in my view, addressed in a satisfactory way when Cullen visited Edmonton. If we are looking for ways to demotivate our volunteers, members, and supporters, the Cullen plan is a great way to do that. I don’t think that’s what party members want.

I apologize for how lengthy I have been with Cullen’s proposal, but I feel that it should be discussed without the rhetoric and judged on its merits. When it is looked at closely, it becomes very difficult for people committed to making our country more progressive to embrace. I won’t discuss the idea of the Liberals and Greens as “progressive”, other than to say I think that’s false. The records of both parties do not bear that out, in my view. That discussion is a whole other blog post if people are interested.

Needless to say, Cullen’s “cooperation” proposal immediately plunged him to the bottom of my list with Mulcair. Some of my fellow New Democrats in Edmonton who had declared their support for him when he first announced immediately switched their allegiances. Whether Cullen likes it or not, he has made the proposal the sole issue on which his candidacy will be judged. Though he has significant depth on other issues, in members’ minds, most will place Cullen on their ballot in a place that shows how much they agree or disagree with the proposal. For me, that place is at the bottom.

6. Martin Singh

I’ll say only a few things about Singh. First I think his presentation in the first debate was very impressive. He is a terrific speaker. I’ve met him a couple of times briefly at the past two federal NDP conventions through the NDP’s Faith and Social Justice Commission of which he and I are both members (he is currently a Co-chair). I am very happy he has committed to running for Parliament in the next election regardless of how he fares in the leadership race.

His shortfalls are obvious. He has never been in elected office before. He had no national profile prior to entering the leadership race. Most party members didn’t even know who he was. And he has made himself a single-issue candidate. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth relates to his owning small businesses and how pro-business he is. While I think that’s terrific and I do think our party needs to talk about business more and how government can work with businesses to grow our economy and create jobs, we need more depth than that. Based on Singh’s focus on this single issue and lack of other credentials, I can only assume that the purpose of his candidacy in his mind is to give business issues a more prominent place in the leadership race. I think that’s a good thing, so I’m glad he is in the race. But I do hope he diversifies his talking points in future debates.

5. Romeo Saganash

Before I get into my views on Saganash’s candidacy, I want to say that my preferences can be divided into two categories: those I don’t believe are fit to lead the party, at least at this time, and those I would enthusiastically support if they won the race. My bottom three choices are in the former category, and my top five choices are in the latter category (making Saganash the first acceptable choice in my list so far). That said, here are my thoughts on his candidacy.

I met Saganash briefly at the 2011 federal NDP convention in Vancouver last summer. He was very impressive in person. He also gave an address to the main convention floor. His speech was very inspiring. He speaks fluently in English, French, and Cree.

He has not been to Edmonton yet for a Kitchen Table Talk, so I don’t know much about him in detail. I have followed his campaign from the beginning and haven’t seen as much activity as I have seen from a number of other candidates. He is also very new to Parliament, being recently elected in the 2011 campaign. He does have an impressive resume, but in my view, Parliamentary experience is essential. Another concern I have with him is that he seemed nervous and somewhat uncomfortable on stage during the first debate. And during his visit to Edmonton for the Leader’s Levee event, his presence didn’t draw people in from around the room like other candidates did.

Saganash, barring any major changes, will not go down on my list. He may go up on my list, depending on how he is when he does make it to Edmonton again and how he fares in the remaining national debates. He seems to be an amazing MP and maybe he’ll be ready for leadership of the party sometime down the road. However, I don’t think he’s ready quite yet.

4. Peggy Nash

Nash, for me, is the biggest question mark right now. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to attend her Kitchen Table Talk. There is still much I don’t know about her. From what I can tell, I do like her politics. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about her is that she isn’t as engaging as some of the other candidates. Some say she doesn’t inspire them. Does a leader need to be engaging and inspiring? That’s a big question and is one worth asking, but it is beyond the scope of this post. ;)

I’ve received Nash’s regular campaign updates via her e-mail list. I saw her in the national debate. I supported her in 2009 when she ran to be the President of the federal NDP and won. I was also at the 2011 convention where there was a controversy about whether or not her President’s report to the convention would be followed by a Q and A period. The convention eventually voted to force her to take questions on the report. That event, though important to some, wasn’t a defining event for me. I can get over that. In fact, I had forgotten it even happened until another Alberta New Democrat raised it when considering her candidacy for leader.

Nash has focused almost solely on the economy through her campaign so far. Part of that may be that the only official debate that has been held was focused on the subject. Another part of that is likely that the economy is where she feels she has the best credentials, relative to the other candidates. She was, after all, Jack Layton’s pick as Finance Critic when the NDP became the Official Opposition. I have been very impressed with her focus on the economy. Unlike Singh, I don’t get the sense that it is her only issue. She does seem to have more depth than that, and I look forward to hearing her views on more issues.

The two main things that put her further down my list are her lack of charisma and her lack of focus on the West. The first is something that is important to me personally, but is not something a party leader or Prime Minister must necessarily have. The second is the main reason she isn’t further up on my list. I recently had a conversation with a prominent Alberta New Democrat who had a personal meeting with Nash in which the person asked her what she saw as growth potential for the party. Nash’s answer did not include any mention of Alberta. I think it’s telling that when being asked in Alberta (where we have 27 Conservative MPs and 1 new Democrat) by an Alberta New Democrat about growth for the party, her answer doesn’t include Alberta. I find that even more telling when I consider that there are two seats besides the one in Alberta we currently hold that were priorities for the party in the last election, both of which saw enormous growth in support. It’s terrific if Nash can grow the party in the area around Toronto, in the Greater Vancouver area, and around Winnipeg. But I’m an Alberta New Democrat, so I want to know what she is going to do to grow the party here. If that’s not a priority, then she’ll likely stay where she is on my list. I do wish I had been at her Kitchen Table Talk. Maybe there is something I missed. I hope that she makes a point of putting some focus on the West over the next couple of months. If she does that, she may move up a spot or two.

3. Brian Topp

When Topp announced his run for leader, it brought up more questions for me than any of the other candidates. And I probably wouldn’t have taken much note of him, like Martin Singh, if he didn’t have the support of such party stalwarts as Ed Broadbent, Libby Davies, and Roy Romanow. He has never had a seat in any public office. I only know who he is because I’m a hyper-engaged partisan who read the articles he wrote in the Globe & Mail, read his book on the 2008 coalition negotiations, and voted for him when he became Peggy Nash’s successor as President of the federal NDP at the party’s 2011 convention.

On the day Topp announced, flanked by former party leader Ed Broadbent and prominent Quebec MP Francoise Boivin, what caught my attention, besides his company, was the first question he was asked by a reporter. He was asked what Canada should do about Palestine’s bid for statehood in the United Nations. Topp answered, unflinchingly, that Canada should support the bid. Ever since, he has been in the upper half of my list, and I’ve paid close attention to his campaign. When he visited Edmonton in December for his Kitchen Table Talk, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. Topp was very engaging. He was charismatic. He spoke at length with substance when he answered each question. He even spoke with a relatively high degree of knowledge about the oilsands. He talked about ensuring more value is added to Canada’s natural resources, so that we’re not just shipping raw products out of the country. The issue is one of the biggest ones in Alberta and is a big concern of many who traditionally vote Conservative. I think it’s his experience working in different parts of the country that make him quick to recognize the uniqueness of our province, even though Alberta is not on his job history.

But there have been a couple of negatives, in my view, since his campaign began. I was disappointed during the first leadership debate to see the way Topp attempted to get a scuffle going between himself and Paul Dewar. It was not, for me, anything to do with my support for Dewar. To me, it was about the substance. Topp’s attempt at “debate” was based on rhetoric, not policy. It was the most unnecessary part of the entire debate. Topp, as a long-time party strategist, should know better than to act that way on national television.

The other negative, for me, came up during his Kitchen Table Talk. Topp has said he would abolish Canada’s Senate (a good thing, in my view) but that he would use the money saved to add an additional 100 seats to Parliament which would be elected proportionally. I do believe it’s the right thing to do to implement proportional representation. It’s deplorable that the NDP got 32% of the vote in Saskatchewan, yet not one NDP MP got elected from that province. It is equally deplorable that a 23% vote for the Bloc in Quebec won the party only 4 out of 75 seats. There are similar examples for the Liberal, Conservative, and Green voters through every election cycle. My first concern with 100 new MPs is that I don’t think we need 438 MPs in Parliament. The US House of Representatives has only 435 seats, and it represents almost 10 times as many people. I can’t imagine going into an election campaign trying to convince the electorate (particularly in Alberta) that we need to add another 100 seats to Parliament. Another concern arose when I shared my concerns with a Topp campaign activist after the event. I was told that each of the 10 provinces would receive 10 new seats under the Topp plan for proportional representation. To clarify, I asked if I was understanding it correctly that Prince Edward Island, currently the most over-represented province in the House of Commons (PEI has less than 35,000 people per seat, whereas Alberta has over 100,000 people per seat), would be given a total of 14 seats instead of the current 4. The answer was yes. I can’t imagine the country uniting under that proposal. Further, I can’t see Quebec, which has been so much the focus of Topp’s campaign so far, accepting representation of 1 MP per 85,000 people to PEI having 1 MP per 10,000 people (approximately the proportions that would result from adding 10 extra MPs to both provinces). I e-mailed the Topp campaign a few weeks ago to clarify the policy and have heard no response. There are only two things posted on Topp’s “On the Issues” section of his website, both to do with wealth inequality. I suppose I may just have to wait to get the full details of Topp’s proposal. For now, he sits at number three. With his method of implementing proportional representation, he likely won’t move any higher on my list. There is certainly a possibility he’ll move down if Nash and/or Saganash improve over the next few months.

2. Niki Ashton

I first met Niki Ashton a couple of years ago when we hosted her at the University of Alberta to give a talk as the NDP’s Post-Secondary Education Critic. She was very impressive. Executive members of the U of A Students’ Union, none of which were New Democrats, told me they were also very impressed with her. I experienced her public speaking skills most notably at the 2009 federal NDP convention in Halifax, where she was one of the weekend’s MCs. During the first NDP leadership debate, she was very comfortable and confident. She is engaging and charismatic. In addition to our country’s two official languages, she also speaks Cree. She has been in Parliament since she was first elected in 2008. Although I haven’t heard her focus specifically on Alberta yet, she has definitely made it clear that the West is one of her prioritieis. I look forward to hearing more about her thoughts on how she sees Alberta fitting into her vision of an NDP government. I still have much to learn about her, so I am excited to be attending the Kitchen Table Talk she is giving in just over a week (link above in the 4th paragraph). If you live in the Edmonton area, it will be an event you won’t want to miss.

I do have a few reservations at this point about Ashton’s candidacy. I was going to say I haven’t heard much from her about policy, but after looking on her website, it looks like she has actually talked quite a bit of policy so far. I suppose many don’t see her as a viable candidate, so she isn’t garnering much media attention. However, I do still want to learn more about her ideas, particularly as they relate to Canada’s place in the world. Ashton’s sound bite phrase of “new politics” has started to get a bit annoying for me, so I’m hoping she doesn’t continue harping on that. It’s a fine idea, but the phrase doesn’t need to be repeated at every opportune moment. The other thing that makes me hesitate a bit is her age. And I’m not sure if that should matter. Ashton is only 29 years old right now. Her age itself isn’t a problem for me. But the question is if it would be a problem for Canadian voters. She’ll be 33 or so at the time of the next election. Would voters take her seriously? I think it’s tough to tell. What I am sure of is that if she doesn’t win this round, she has a very bright political career ahead of her. She will finish the leadership race having pleasantly surprised many people across the country, and she’ll have a greater public profile. Assuming she doesn’t win this race, my hope is that she’ll stay in Parliament for years to come and have the opportunity to focus on a number of different portfolios (in critic positions or, if things go well, cabinet positions). She can raise her public profile even more through a few sessions of Parliament and may end up one of the top contenders for the NDP leadership job the next time around. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a Prime Minister Ashton. I would not be completely shocked.

1. Paul Dewar

Dewar has been at the top of my list since before he announced his candidacy. In fact, I sent him an e-mail message before he declared to encourage him to put his name forward. He was first elected to Parliament in 2006 and had a teaching career before that. Since being elected, he has been one of the most high-profile NDP MPs in the country, serving as the party’s Foreign Affairs Critic from 2007 until he stepped aside to run for the NDP leadership in 2011. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Paul over the past couple years. I have talked with him extensively about foreign affairs and am always amazed at the depth of knowledge he has about the entire world. Foreign affairs, for me, is one of the most important policy areas to look at in choosing the next NDP leader. We are at the point where we are picking a potential Prime Minister. The only candidate to me who truly looks Prime Ministerial is Paul Dewar. He has a vision for the country and a vision for the world. During his visit to Edmonton for his Kitchen Table Talk, he spoke with depth on every issue that was raised. He is casual and comfortable in a room of strangers. He is confident and has charisma when he addresses a crowd. He was the first leadership candidate to really focus on the West and talk about it as one of the places the party needs to focus on. He understands Albertans’ issues. I have heard him talk a number of times about how we need to add value to our raw resources before we export them. He is a bridge-builder with broad appeal. He has made a point not to alienate any of the candidates in the leadership race, including those he has major disagreements with. I believe he’ll attract many Canadians who hesitate to look at the NDP. He is a likeable public persona.

The major criticism of Dewar, and really the only one I’ve heard, is that his French isn’t good enough. I do share some of that concern, however, I don’t think our criteria for picking the next Prime Minister should focus solely on language. He managed himself in the first bilingual leadership debate and according to a Francophone friend of mine, has improved immensely from even the beginning of the campaign. He has a French teacher who travels with him on his leadership campaign, and it is clearly working. It is extremely important that our next leader can speak French. But I think it’s naive to think that the candidate with the best French is automatically going to hold onto all of our seats in Quebec. Quebec voters are as much concerned about personality and policy as voters in the rest of the country. We need a leader who can speak French, who has progressive values and ideals, who can unite the party, and who has broad appeal across the country. Paul Dewar, for me, fits that description better than any of the other candidates.

Well, I suppose that brings us to a conclusion. For me, Mulcair, Cullen, and Singh are off the list. They are all numbered on this post, but the three of them will not be ranked on my ballot. They are the only candidate I believe would be bad for the party from the start. Saganash, Nash, Topp, and Ashton are all subject to change, and I anticipate their order on my ballot will change, though I’m not sure in what way yet. There is still much to happen before we cast our votes to decide who will be the next leader of the NDP and the Official Opposition. I’ll be trying to take in as much as possible from all of the candidates between now and the leadership convention, including the candidates I’ve ruled out. I still want to see them all as NDP MPs and cabinet ministers, inshalla. Paul Dewar is at the top of my list and will remain there when I cast my ballot, unless something drastically changes before then. His vision for Canada and the world is one that I can embrace without reservations.


  1. Topp is far from the first to make the rhetorical point that we could trade 100 Senators for 100 top-up MPs. I would be very concerned if this was a serious plan, because it would make PR (which requires no constitutional amendment) hostage to the idea of abolishing the Senate (which does, and will take a long time). I also agree with Joel French that adding 100 more MPs is less saleable than the recommendation of the Law Commission of Canada (make every three ridings into two larger ridings, and elect one-third of MPs as regional top-up MPs by an open-list system where voters can rank the regional candidates, so a high list position is no guarantee of election). Since we would implement PR before abolishing the Senate, that's how we would do it. By the time we abolished the Senate, would there be much interest in adding 100 more MPs? Perhaps not.

    But for Joel French to rank Topp based on the comments of an unnamed "activist" that each province would get 10 more MPs as "top-up" MPs, which is obvious nonsense and clearly suggests the "activist" has never thought much about PR, is a bit bizarre.

    French also says he is waiting for Brian Topp to elaborate on how his rhetorical plan would work. I hope it's a long wait. The only elaboration required is for Topp to say that he would not, in fact, wait for Senate abolition before introducing proportional representation.

  2. Wow, disagree completely about every single point that you make here. In effect, you have your list in almost precisely the opposite order of how I see the race myself. I guess being the NDP stronghold that Alberta is, we might as well just call this race for the unilingual Dewar and just sit back and wait for him to coast to victory in 2013. I can't wait, Nikki Ashton heading up finance, Libby Davies at foreign affairs, Brian Topp at health.

    While we're dishing out terrible advise and analyses, why don't we start fleshing out Premier Mason's team?

  3. Manou, if I'm going to take you seriously, you're going to have to provide some substance to your reply.

    Wilf, the "activist" I talked to is an NDP staffer and Topp's main guy in Alberta. I wouldn't rank Topp on my actual ballot based on that conversation, but until I can clarify that, I consider it fair game. Maybe it speaks to a broader concern of mine, which is that Topp has released almost nothing when it comes to policy. As noted in my post, the only two things he has on his website are about inequality. An important subject, no doubt, but I want to see a lot more substance from him before the end of the race.

  4. Hm, I like Mulcair, and I'll make sure to ask a question about his open-mindedness on Israel/Palestine. Is a nuanced position bad? surely not. We have to keep Quebec, and he's done a great job of providing depth to Jack Layton's excellent invitation to Quebec voters.
    I understand "tarsands" is a loaded phrase, and so I use "oilsands" in order to reduce the heat in favour of a reasoned discussion... a change in phrasing is reasonable, right? "In sum, the problem with Mulcair is that there are too many problems with Mulcair, and these are not major problems". You mean they ARE major problems?
    I really can't support Paul Dewar because of his not speaking French. Too bad, because he's a great MP and his mother did a great job as mayor of Ottawa.
    I really like Brian Topp. To me, he knows ND issues, and he's got lots of charisma for voters new to the idea of voting NDP.
    I liked Peggy Nash right away, and I wish she had not run for leader, and stayed on Jim Flaherty.
    Policy! groan...I want style! of course understanding is a must...I want politics to be fun

  5. Thanks for your comments, Anne. I think it's legitimate to talk about how good (or bad) Dewar's French is, but to say he doesn't speak French I think is false.

    On the section in my blog you cited on Mulcair, I must have been smoking something when I wrote it! It makes a lot more sense to me if I take out "and these are not major problems." I have no idea what I meant by that!

    A friend share an article with me today from Independent Jewish Voices, an organization that does great progressive work in Canada on Israel-Palestine. It shows a Mulcair with a position that is far from nuanced. Here's the link:

  6. Joel, Paul Dewar can't be a contender, although he could have been had he learned fluent French. It really must be next time for him.

    Before I replied to your post, I read the article on Mulcair's position by the Independent Jewish Voices Canada. I note that Mulcair is in a riding with many Jewish voters. He's taken a strong position to support Israel. Could he also take a position to support human rights for Palestinians? Well, could you forgive Jack Layton for using the term "tarsands" instead of "oilsands"? I've heard Len Legault say, but the term IS tarsands! Of course, but that term has now become identified with a polarized debate, and better to drop it.
    Is there room for strong support for Israel and human rights for Palestine? Hope so.

    1. Economists? Yeah, like their track record lately makes them worth listening to. If the NDP restricts its policies to ones that "more than a few" economists will approve of, it will be consigning the country to social and economic ruin.

  7. It's only been a little more than a year since an NDP MLA has used "tar sands" in the Alberta legislature, so Mulcair isn't that far behind the provincial section, if he's behind them at all.

  8. Mulcair is the only candidate who has, at least publicly, used the term so far in the race. So if I'm asked to judge him relative to the other candidates running for the same position (which is what we're doing), then he's further behind the rest.

    Anne, I don't consider Mulcair's position on Israel-Palestine to be "pro-Israel". In fact, I think people with opinions like his are the biggest danger to Israel and perpetuate the violence there. The best way to support Israel and Israelis is to criticize its government when it violates human rights and international law.

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  10. As a former Albertan, I can appreciate some of your concerns regarding party strategy in that province, although I think you greatly underestimate the importance of maintaining support in Quebec as a major criteria for selecting the next leader. Mulcair is our best hope for keeping what Layton and Mulcair worked hard for in this province and you are way too quick to suggest that Dewar is an acceptable candidate in Quebec. I don't know a single person here who supports him and I don't know anyone here who feels his level of French is acceptable. The truth is that language is a really sensitive issue and we need someone who can not only speak French, but who also someone who knows the nuanced way to deliver messages to Quebeckers (like giving a bilingual introduction at the first bilingual debate, Mulcair was the only one to do this). You make some good points but I don't think I agree with your ranking of priority for issues.

  11. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll assume there's no relation to Rob Anders. ;)

    While it's fine that Mulcair gave a bilingual introduction in the first debate, the only reason no one else did is because the first half was English. The closing statements were to be in French, if I understand it right.

  12. haha no relation, don't worry.
    If I remember correctly, the first half had a conclusion as well, and the second half had no introduction, therefore the intro should have been done in both languages. But really that's minor, I just used it as an example of the kinds of things we need to do better. With Mulcair as leader I'm confident we wouldn't make mistakes like failing to check if the auditor general is bilingual... These things hurt us here and give the Bloc ammunition.

  13. Interesting observations. I don't think Mulcair would be divisive though. New Democrat supporters are no longer satisfied just to be the conscience of Canada. We want to win and Mulcair, while not the only one, does have the potential to get it done. At the start of the race I'd hoped he wouldn't even run, but since then his organizational skills alone have moved him into the top half of my list.

    As for Dewar, my one knock against him so far is that I'm uncertain if he'll be able to defend many of his policies. I know more than a few economists who will tear some of them to shreds. So between now and the convention I'd really like to see him get forced into a position where he has to defend some of his policies.

    And I too would not be shocked if Ashton became the PM of Canada one day in the not too distant future.

  14. Count me as one of those that has Dewar at the bottom of his list. Dewar would destroy everything Jack has built, he's french is not good enough, he was wooden in the debate, and he keeps throwing policies at the wall and none seem to stick, and his tying the voter subsity to female candiatates is riduculus and does nothing to address the underlining issues and is tokenism that will draw blow back.

    Ashton is my first choice, Ashton actually remains me the most if Jack. I think she'd be the most unifying candiatate. I think she's posed to be the candiatate that solves the gun registery issue. She's gaining popularity in Quebec and the west. Her strength in Southern Ontario will come from her defence of LGTB issued, her ability to speak greek and spanish in TO, and her defence of Canadian industry will play in Hamilton and Windsor. In the Northern Ontario and the north in general she understands northern issues from her experience as a northern. Also unlike Nash Niki has experienced election campaigning in Quebec, she worked on Mulcair's campaign I believe.

    Mulcair is 2, he has great talent and intergity and charisma and is the only one to prove his progressive nature in government, the rest are still untested in that regard. Mulcair has really toned it down in this campaign and is reaching out to other candiatate's. Attacks of centralism are hot air. As to Isreal and Palestian, this will be Mulcair's greatest challenge, still its silly to base your disicions on a policy in which we have no say and don't matter in.

    Btw did you see Libby and Mulcair during the funeral? I think niether side holds a grudge.

  15. Its like Mulcair reads your blog. He answered most of your major critisms especially on the importance of the Alberta to the NDP while there. I found his stradgegy for cracking into Alberta enlightening. Honestly before I read what Mulcair had to say on the NDP in Alberta I had written off most of Alberta off outside Edmonton, but the way he made parrells between Quebec and Alberta and how he'd alter the tactics used to win Alberta had me push him from 2 into 1 on my list. It also made me realize that Alberta is major group think province even more so then Quebec, so if we gained mometuem in Alberta, especially Calagary then I believe we'll see what happened in Quebec happen Alberta. We could win most if not all the marbles. Albertans have greater political loyalty too so if we could win that from Harper we have a massive edge and drive a stake right through his heart.

  16. Overall it's a hard choice for me. I don't really like Mulcair--I respect his environmental credentials, but I don't like his centrist economic stance and I worry about his abrasive nature. I'm also certainly not happy about his position on Israel.

    I like Topp's apparent policies and respect his brains but I'm uncertain about his charisma and I don't really trust him. He's a backroom boy, and for all his relatively progressive approach during this race his background seems to be more centrist--I don't feel I can be at all sure where his positions will go once he's the leader.

    Dewar doesn't have enough French. I know it seems like a small thing, but Quebec is very important, not just in terms of re-electing MPs but important period. I do want someone who can engage with Quebec, not just to convince "them" to vote for "us" but also to enrich the NDP's experience with the Quebec leftist experience, which is also strong.

    Some of the others seem good but it's hard to be sure and/or I wonder about electability in one way or another, whether because of youth or other question marks. None of the candidates quite hit all my buttons at the same time. But a number of them are good enough that if they're elected, I'll be quite willing to support them

  17. Thank you for your somewhat objective discussion of the candidates, Joel. Every NDP party member has an ordered list of leadership candidates in some form or another. I agree with you to varying degrees on your opinions of the candidates. I think the biggest difference between us is that you have Paul Dewar at #1 where I have Peggy Nash but what you’ve written here will make me give Dewar some additional consideration.
    I think that from a pragmatic perspective displacing Topp or Mulcair from their current positions as party president and deputy-leader would mean that we would have to introduce someone new to these positions. I would much prefer that they continue with the impressive work in their current roles and we focus only on selecting a new leader.
    I’m in total agreement that the party needs to successfully engage Canadians from the western provinces and any candidate worth considering must show that they have the willingness and capacity to do so.
    However, as a Québécois, I can tell you that Québec is and will always be a wild card. The seats we were given may not come so easily the next time and their political loyalties are fickle. Polls are showing that our upcoming provincial election may see the introduction of an untested hard-right political party to government. The province’s desire for political renewal is very strong. A party leader with limited capacity to communicate with Québec voters will not help our party. I think that Peggy Nash’s academic background in the French language puts her above Dewar in that respect.
    Does Nash have no charisma or less charisma than other leadership candidates? I would rather ask, does she have more or less charisma than Stephen Harper? Ultimately, we’re looking for someone who would be best suited to go toe-to-toe with him.