OTTAWA—Tom Mulcair, the man many are blaming for last year’s NDP collapse at the ballot box, will confront his critics this weekend in Edmonton, where rank-and-file party members are gathering to decide their leader’s political fate.
Mulcair travelled to the Alberta capital Wednesday without any visible rivals for his job in sight, and yet he remains under pressure from critics, party insiders and others who believe it’s time for a change at the top.
A number of New Democrats—speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being seen as openly critical of their leader—say they remain deeply conflicted about whether to support Mulcair, who they say has struggled to connect with Canadians on a personal level despite his strengths in the Commons.
Some members are pushing for the NDP to return to its leftist roots, such as by embracing the so-called “Leap manifesto,” which calls for Canada to wean itself off fossil fuels, among other things. Others maintain the party’s election platform was sufficiently progressive, just poorly promoted.
Peter Stoffer, a Nova Scotia MP who was among several NDP stalwarts who lost his Commons seat last October, said he will support Mulcair, calling it short-sighted to blame the leader exclusively for the loss.
“I know a lot of people are quite bitter about losing—in fact no politician wants to end their career on a losing note,” Stoffer said.
“But the reality is, it is not just the leader why you win or lose. There are many other components to it as well and you’ve got to tip your hat off to the Liberal party and Justin Trudeau. They worked hard, they had a better game plan than we did and they ended up winning ? that’s just the way it is.”
Not everyone has been so accommodating. Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, does not mince words when it comes to Mulcair.
“He indicated to me that he heard people say I wasn’t supporting him, and I said, ‘Absolutely I’m not supporting you,”’ Yussuff said in a recent interview.
Other dissenters include former NDP MP Peggy Nash, who ran against Mulcair in 2012. In an opinion piece Tuesday in the Huffington Post, Nash didn’t pull her punches, but she did stop short of calling for new leadership.
“Our national NDP campaign let us down in spectacular fashion,” Nash wrote. “That it was so tone deaf to the mood of the nation, and ultimately so incompetent in its campaign offer to Canadians, was simply heartbreaking.”
Mulcair has not made a convincing case to stay, she suggested.
“I will be a delegate in Edmonton next weekend. Frankly I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to vote. I want to hear what Tom Mulcair offers us at the convention…. I hope he throws away talking points and speaks from the heart.”
Queen’s University labour and history professor Christo Aivalis, who is also a member of the party, said Yussuff’s comments in particular amount to detonating a stink bomb on the floor of the convention.
Yussuff is scheduled to speak at the convention Friday, making matters even more awkward.
“If you are a leader trying to keep your job, you don’t want volatility,” Aivalis said. “You want a stable convention. You want basically an uneventful convention.”
Mulcair isn’t without his supporters, however.
Six other unions affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress have come out in support of the leader, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Steelworkers and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
“I have the support of Canada’s major trade unions,” Mulcair noted Tuesday in Montreal. “We are the New Democratic Party, we wear our name well. Every member of the party is entitled to their opinion as individuals.”
On Sunday, Mulcair—who earned the support of 92 per cent of NDP delegates in 2013—will face a leadership review in which party president Rebecca Blaikie has suggested he will need about 70 per cent support to stay on as leader.
For his part, Mulcair has refused to indicate what support threshold he himself believes would allow him to keep the job. And even if he survives the weekend, he will face another review in 2018, before the next federal election.
More than 1,500 rank-and-file members of the NDP are expected to congregate in Edmonton; only those in attendance will be eligible to cast a ballot.