New Democrats soul search ahead of Mulcair’s critical leadership review

By , on April 10, 2016

NDP members members must decide if Leader Tom Mulcair  is the right frontman to revive the party from its low standing in the polls. (Photo from Mulcair's official Twitter account)
NDP members members must decide if Leader Tom Mulcair (in photo) is the right frontman to revive the party from its low standing in the polls. (Photo from Mulcair’s official Twitter account)

EDMONTON – Energized delegates at the NDP convention in Edmonton decide today whether Leader Tom Mulcair will stay or go.

After rousing speeches from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and party elder Stephen Lewis on Saturday that presented divergent views on how the party should deal with climate change, the 1,700 delegates are expected to cast their votes in a critical leadership review this afternoon.

Rank-and-file members must decide if Mulcair is the right frontman to revive the party from its low standing in the polls and help the NDP redefine itself after a serious setback in last fall’s election.

Mulcair maintains he can help facilitate a political comeback while a number of members are not so convinced.

Notley and Lewis gave the delegates plenty of food for thought.

To great applause, Notley told New Democrats they can stage a revival, pointing to her own experience leading the provincial party out of the doldrums and into power in a province few dared to predict would ever turn orange.

But she also pleaded with NDPers outside of Alberta to understand that thousands of families in her province depend on natural resources for their living, and need a pipeline and support for the oil and gas sector to maintain their quality of life – even while working to improve the environment.

Notley specifically took aim at the so-called Leap Manifesto – a policy document crafted by activists within the party that proposes quickly weaning Canada off fossil fuels and preventing future pipeline infrastructure.

Lewis, to equally raucous applause, presented a different vision – he stressed the importance of the discussion around the manifesto and suggested the dialogue could breathe life into the beleaguered party.

“Simply let the leap be the entry point to one of the great philosophic and pragmatic debates that engages democratic socialists in Canada,” he said, while also recognizing the tension that will exist with Mulcair’s leadership review.

Many New Democrats now find themselves struggling with the question of whether Mulcair can find a way to convey an impassioned message of his own – something many felt he failed to do during the course of the campaign.

“There was no coherent message, no optimism, no passion,” former MP Peggy Nash wrote last week in the Huffington Post.

Are enough members willing to give him a second chance?

The leadership review will take place after an intense morning. Delegates will first vote on a joint resolution calling for a debate on the policies that could flow from the leap manifesto. Then, Mulcair will make his final pitch before delegates vote mid-afternoon.

The joint resolution urges the NDP to recognize and support the leap document as a high-level statement of principles that speaks to the aspirations, history, and values of the party.

It also calls for specific policies in the manifesto to be debated and modified on their own merits and according to the needs of communities and all parts of the country.

NDP President Rebecca Blaikie has suggested Mulcair will need about 70 per cent support from delegates to stay on as leader, although the party’s constitution states that a leadership race only needs to be called if the leader receives less than 50 per cent.

Mulcair has refused to say what level of support would prompt him to resign.