Print Edition: March 28, 2012
The NDP party—which lost its respected leader Jack Layton shortly after seeing the party make a massive breakthrough within the Canadian electorate—held a convention this past weekend to find a new leader. After all the months of campaigning, it boiled down to two men remaining on Sunday night to fill Layton’s shoes – Thomas Mulcair or Brian Topp.
But in the waning hours of the night, after over 12 hours of balloting, it was Mulcair who came out on top after going to the fourth ballot.
Already the frontrunner before going into the convention, Mulcair received 57.2 per cent to Topp’s 42.8 per cent of the 59,210 votes.
Both men had strong campaign teams and strategists, but it was Mulcair who had managed to shake the perception of being “a risk” – something that had plagued him early on.
The campaigning period, which began in September and was set to conclude with the convention in January, was extended as Mulcair pressured for an additional campaigning period – something Topp also wanted. That extra time is what allowed Mulcair to shape his image enough to be chosen by the majority of the party.
Mulcair has long been seen to have a divergent ideology for the party, one that would move it to more of a centrist position. As Mulcair said later on, he wants to bring the centre to the NDP.
Topp, on the other hand, had picked up many endorsements and was the institutional candidate who would continue to keep the party in a socially democratic standing.
With two views that partly clash, it was a decision that had to be made by the party.
Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP made this statement: “I want to congratulate Mr. Mulcair on his victory today and wish him the very best as leader of the party and leader of the Federal NDP opposition in Ottawa. I’m very confident the party will unite around his leadership, hold the Conservative government to account, offer a compelling alternative government, and continue to build support for the federal NDP across the country.”
Mulcair was born to an Irish father and French mother and grew up in Quebec. His upbringing is what allowed him to possess a natural fluency in both official languages, a major asset.
He graduated from McGill University with a degree in both common law and civil law, while his political career began provincially as member of the Quebec Liberals in 1994. He was a minister under Premier Jean Charest until 2007, where he left the party for the federal NDP.
Because of his move to a different political party, some called him an opportunist. But that was also left up to the party to judge.
Going into the convention and vying for the position, along with Mulcair and Topp, were Niki Ashton, Martin Singh, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen. As the one-member one-vote balloting system was used, the first to 50 per cent was declared the winner.
After the first ballot, Ashton, Singh and Dewar were out. Nash made it to the second ballot, and Cullen had enough to get onto the third ballot. It left both Mulcair and Topp without that needed majority, and so the fourth ballot was necessary. Mulcair was the successive leader on each of the ballots.
Voting was done both in the weeks ahead of the convention—by mail-in or online—and on the convention floor, right up to the final ballot.
For those voting online during the convention, though, they were plagued by network problems as the perils of online voting became evident. Because of what was potentially a denial of service attack or system fault, many voters were locked out and the voting window for the ballots had to be extended, which caused the last results to finally be announced late into the night.
But once those final votes were announced, Mulcair took to the head of the convention floor for his victory speech. Speaking in both French and English, after getting his thanks out of the way, he briefly brought up youth apathy in politics. Recognizing how youth are involved, just not politically, he sees that the party needs to keep reaching out.
He then spoke of the Conservative government.
“The challenge that confronts us is not a failure of ability or talent – it is a failure of leadership. And that is a failure that we intend to reverse,” Mulcair said. “Leadership comes in many forms. Our current government appeals to people’s fears, rules by seeking out division, and is leaving the tab for our expenses to our grandchildren.”
Mulcair also touched how in order to win the next election, the party is going to have to “reach beyond its traditional base and unite all progressist forces under the NDP banner.”
His speech ended on the note of standing up for our government run services such as healthcare and public pensions.
“The institutions we’ve built – we risk losing under the policies of the current government,” he said. “As we unite our party to take on a government that is dismantling the very institutions we hold dear, we will do so without excluding or demonizing those who disagree with us. We will unite progressives, we will unite our country, and together will work towards a more just and a better world.”
With the leadership race now behind him, Mulcair has his work cut out for him as he steps back into the political ring, this time as leader of the official opposition in parliament.