It’s been a whirlwind year for the Federal NDP. From the largest gains in the party’s history, to the loss of our leader, resulting in a leadership race none of us wanted.
I came out of the gates early in my support for Romeo Saganash. A new MP, but one with nearly 30 years of experience bringing people together; negotiating with governments, the UN and industry; and a man with a proven track record of job creation and sustainable development. During a visit to Brant, Romeo signed up more members then we’ve ever seen on a single day. He has a knack for reaching out to those who have been disenfranchised and dismissed by the political systems of our country. His insight into our own issues with land claims was also very valuable and timely, and I look forward to consulting with him more in the future.
Romeo was unable to continue the race due to an illness in his family. I don’t think anyone who attended his event at the Woodland Cultural Centre would be surprised by this decision. One could see how much his family meant to him as tears began to flow when he told the story of his brother, who had actually been sent to Woodland as a youth, during the shameful time it was a residential school. I’ll always remember the pained look on his face as we toured the grounds and the interior of the school.
Since that time I’ve helped organize visits to the riding from Paul Dewar, Thomas Mulcair, Martin Singh, Brian Topp and Nathan Cullen all of whom are vying for leadership. I thought having so many candidates here would make the decision easier for our local members, myself included, but instead it actually got harder to choose.
Each candidate has very different ideas about where to go as Canada’s Official Opposition and how to grow in the lead up to the 2015 election.
I’d like to make some observations, in chronological order, about each of the candidates who made their way to Brant.
Dewar has a likeability you just can't learn and he comes by it honestly. I know this having had the opportunity to shadow Paul for a day at Parliament Hill and in his riding several years ago. His policies are thoughtful and I don't think he'll get lost in the political game playing of Parliament instead of focusing on the issues that matter to families and voters. His focus on grass roots is one that really resonates with what worked for us in Brant over the last several years, and frankly I can't see a way for the Conservatives to successfully attack him or try to define him. He's also running with MP Charlie Angus as his deputy leader which will definitely be an attractive proposition for many in the party. Charlie is arguably the most popular (and effective) MP in the House of Commons today. His French is an issue but is getting better by the day. It's already better than Stephen Harper's when he became Prime Minister and frankly, it’s better than Jean Chretien's English when he became PM.
Mulcair is the most experienced, has a great depth of knowledge about issues and is not afraid to get into a dust up to make a point if needed. He's already been through the Conservative attack machine and it hasn't slowed him down at all. Is he somewhat divisive? Yes, but it's a leadership race and he has bold ideas which can scare some. Personally I think that a little bit of nervousness for a party going through changes is good for us. While here Tom received the spontaneous endorsement of long-time MP & MPP Ian Deans who cited Tom's "experience, resolve and believability" as reasons any New Democrat should rank Tom high on their ballot. While seen as a fighter (for good reason) what is rarely talked about by the English media is how friendly and gracious Tom can be too. I've seen it plenty in Quebec and we saw glimpses of it here locally. If he becomes leader, we'll need more of that side of Tom to come through.
Singh, a very successful businessman with holdings across the country, wants to break the impression that the sky would fall on the economy with an NDP government at the helm. A New Democrat for 15 years Singh was turned onto the NDP because he was impressed with their economic reuslts. NDP provincial governments led by Tommy Douglas, Roy Romanow, Doer and now Dexter turned around their economies after years of Conservative rule which left the coffers dry and the debt piled high. Sound familiar?
Will Singh become leader? Probably not, as he had a very low profile even among New Democrats before this leadership race. However, I believe his candidacy is incredibly important as the first step in a national effort to correct the record on the NDP and the economy, and he is a mightily impressive candidate on paper and in person.
Topp might be the best at the Q & A format having wowed the crowd who came to see him. He was able to secure local endorsements ahead of his visit from many people I've worked with and trust. His ability to communicate with the written word and create policy is very strong as well. I honestly believe Topp is among the best political writers of our time. His research, his ability to make a coherent argument and his passion for NDP policies shine through. He co-wrote the last NDP platform and I know from experience that it was an easier sell to the electorate than any previous platform New Democrats had produced. He lacks some of the skills for retail politics that Jack had and the other nominees have but these can be learned by doing more interviews, more meet and greets, more listening and door knocking. If elected he shouldn't embark on any Ignatieff-inspired-cross-country BBQ tours. That just wouldn't be the right fit. Instead I'd suggest he go into neighbourhoods across the country and start knocking on doors. It may sound hokey but that's exactly the way you develop those skills and get a feel for where the voters sit. Jack even after several wins would still door knock in his riding regularly in between elections.
Cullen has bold ideas about uniting progressives and his candor, humour and charm are refreshing to seasoned political veterans and newbies alike. He's easily the best overall communicator of the group and the candidate who's speaking style and demeanour reminds me the most of Jack. Nathan, like Paul, stayed late to talk to individuals in a meaningful way. His successful experience with land claims and Native & Non-Native partnership in his riding also gets him points in Brant. The elephant in the room is his idea around cooperation with the Liberals and Greens specifically his one-time offer to hold joint nomination meetings in 2015. His argument is that every other time the NDP has worked with, or tried to work with the other parties, voters have come our way. In fact, a March 5th Forum Poll has shown that 6 out of 10 NDP and Liberal supporters favour joint nomination meetings and younger voters favour it most.
Here is my take: while Liberal supporters like the idea I don't believe the Liberal party brass will ever allow it. Without that support, it's not likely to happen. What people forget though is that Cullen isn't talking to the Liberal or Green Party higher-ups, he's talking to their supporters who voted Liberal or Green but could be swayed to the NDP. He's telling progressive voters who care more about ideals than party affiliation that he understands them. He's also talking to the hundreds of thousands of voters who believe in electoral reform, proportional representation and in being less partisan. As someone who has worked hard in my community to be the least-partisan partisan I know that sentiment from voters is real.
Well there you are, my candid thoughts about the leadership race as it pertains to those contenders who took the time to come to Brant. I appreciate each of their efforts in placing our community as a priority and would be proud to serve with each of them in the coming years. Brant News has asked me to write an editorial piece declaring my choice for next week's edition and as you can see it will be a difficult choice to make.
As I go off to make my decision what I want to end on however, is this. A united NDP, no matter who becomes leader, will be able to achieve the dreams set up before us by leaders like Tommy, Ed and Jack. These candidates, and even more importantly their teams, have done an incredible job separately and have learned much. When we all get back on the same team, watch out.
My challenge to all New Democrats from every leadership team is this: The leadership race has to end on March 24th. No camps, no grudges, no hurt feelings. Let's see what we can do together and where we are a year from now as a united force for a better, more progressive Canada.
Want to learn more about the candidates and the race?
Search #ndpldr on twitter and visit Leadership2012.ca
Special thanks to Paul Smith of Photohouse Studios for photos of Mulcair, Topp & Cullen
Special thanks to Rebekah Pitts for photos of Dewar & Singh