Mulcair faces leadership review at Edmonton NDP convention

Apr 8, 2016 | News

NDP leader Tom Mulcair at a campaign rally in downtown Toronto

NDP leader Tom Mulcair at a campaign rally in downtown Toronto

Jeremy Appel

The fate of New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair, will be decided as party delegates meet in Edmonton this weekend for their annual convention.

The convention includes a leadership review, which will be the first test of Mulcair’s authority since the NDP’s disastrous showing in the 2015 election. Party President Rebecca Blaikie set a 70 per cent threshold of approval for Mulcair to stay on as leader.

The party was reduced to 44 seats in the House of Commons from the high of 103 they won under the late Jack Layton’s leadership in 2011. They fell to 19.7 per cent of the popular vote, compared to 30.6 per cent in the previous election.

Party supporters are divided over whether Mulcair, a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister, is to blame for the NDP’s fall from Official Opposition to third place.

Should he stay or should he go?

Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yusuf has come out against Mulcair’s continued leadership, saying the party needs a fresh face. Yusuf is slated to give a speech to that effect Friday afternoon at the convention.

“There’s a very good likelihood (Mulcair) will stay on as leader.” -Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.

Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) is resolute in her position that the federal party drifted too far from its core values, particularly with Mulcair’s pledge to balance the budget every year. That promise allowed the Liberals to outflank them on the left by advocating limited deficit spending.

“This is a shift the party’s been on for a while now. It was very evident under Jack (Layton), for example, but he had the kind of charisma as leader that overlooked that,” DiNovo told Humber News. “It’s time to stop it and look at the principles we stand for as a party.”

DiNovo says the success of U.S. Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders, and U.K. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, both avowed socialists, shows there’s an appetite for radical change across the Western world.

“We’re going to need dramatic and progressive change to combat the coming climate crisis that’s on our horizon,” which unfortunately was not offered by the NDP in 2015, said DiNovo.

“There’s a very good likelihood (Mulcair) will stay on as leader,” said DiNovo. “If that happens the real work has to continue of redefining our party,” because the approach of the 2015 campaign was clearly unsuccessful.

She cites the Leap Manifesto, a document initiated by activists and journalists Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, and endorsed by such diverse Canadian figures as singer Alanis Morissette, criminal defence lawyer Clayton Ruby, author Michael Ondaatje and actor Pamela Anderson, as a useful guide for radical change in the face of impending environmental catastrophe.

“We have to look at a greening of the economy and we have to look at it now. Under the current system of capitalism we will never really get there unless we make some dramatic moves, which will literally save the lives of our children or grandchildren,” DiNovo said.

Many unions back Mulcair

Bob Gallagher, director of communications for United Steelworkers and a former chief of staff to Jack Layton, says Mulcair should be given another shot at leading the party for the 2019 election.

“Strategic voting has always been a problem.” -Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.

His union, along with Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unifor, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and United Food and Commercial Workers, have come out in support of Mulcair’s leadership.

“The reality is in the first half of the (2015) campaign, the NDP members and general public were willing to elect him as prime minister,” Gallagher told Humber News from Edmonton.

“Obviously in the second half things changed pretty dramatically in terms of public support,” he conceded, but attributes this to voters getting carried away with strategic voting, flocking en masse to the Liberals in a bid to oust former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

DiNovo agrees that “strategic voting has always been a problem” for the NDP, but cannot be blamed exclusively for the party’s shellacking in October.

Mulcair’s prosecutorial performance in the House earned him widespread praise, including from former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who called him one of the most effective Opposition Leaders in recent Canadian history.

“We ran a bad campaign, but that’s not solely the leader’s fault,” said Gallagher.

Sunday’s leadership review will reveal whether the rest of the party feels that way.

An abbreviated history of the federal NDP leadership

  • Tommy Douglas (1961 – 1971)
  • David Lewis (1971 – 75)
  • Ed Broadbent (1975 – 1989)
  • Audrey McLaughlin (1989 – 1995)
  • Alexa McDonough (1995 – 2003)
  • Jack Layton (2003 – 2011)
  • Nycole Turmel (2011 – 12)
  • Thomas Mulcair (2012 – ?)