Thursday, 22 September 2011

NDP Leadership race maybe a coronation for Brian Topp.

Thomas Mulcair's NDP leadership bid is in doubt.

New Democrats seem to be crowning Brian Topp as their new leader. Can Thomas Mulcair still get in the game?

by Tom Thorne
Disturbing trends developed this week within the ranks of the New Democratic Party. The leadership race seems to be over. There has been a pregnant silence from Thomas Mulcair about his plans after former leader Ed Broadbent's endorsement of Brian Topp. This week Topp has been endorsed by his old boss, former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanov.
It looks like the NDP bigwigs are for Brian Topp. This development seems to have stopped Thomas Mulcair in his tracks since he doesn't appear to have much traction now that party brass and strategists have already backed their horse in the race. This is not a good situation for a party that claims to be democratic and recently renewed its claim on political decency  by releasing the Jack Layton manifesto letter at his state funeral.
Last week I said we would see Thomas Mulcair enter the leadership race. This week I am not so certain that he will. If he stays out, then that will be a pity because there are few other candidates that would be little more than form without substance up against Brian Topp and his back room backers.
Quebec is the weak link.
Although the NDP has 59 seats in Quebec they do not have a big membership to support Thomas Mulcair. In fact the membership of the party in Quebec is small and without much structure that means that as a Quebecker Thomas Mulcair hasn't got a lot to work with except the parliamentary caucus.  I suspect they will soon drift away soon to Quebec born Brian Topp when they sniff the wind and smell a winner.
So it looks like a Brian Topp coronation for the leadership and a lot of form without substance stuff between now and the Leadership convention in January 2012. Mulcair is popular in Quebec but perhaps somewhat unknown in the rest of the country. Brian Topp has a good record throughout the rest of the country however he too will also have to woo the membership and get to know them.
The real place for Thomas Mulcair to shine is in parliament shredding the ideological notions of the current Harper Conservatives. The omnibus crime bill offers a lot of opportunity for Mulcair to shine with his former justice ministry background  when he was a civil servant for the Quebec government. 
The NDP constitution elects leaders with one vote for each signed up member.  At the moment 80,000 people are card carrying NDP members who can by their party membership status vote for the leader. 
Only about 2,000 of these people are registered in Quebec. If Mulcair wants the leadership he has to not only sell memberships in Quebec but also convince card carrying NDP members across the country to support him.
The Broadbent and Romanov endorsement of  Brian Topp....
Can he do it? This is exactly what he is gauging at the moment. He has two strikes against him with the Broadbent and Romanov endorsements. Now he has to pull irons out of the fire to register with the NDP membership. Just what does he offer that they can't get with Brian Topp? 
Mulcair will need to offer a creditable direction to the party. Everyone of course will endorse Jack Layton's manifesto letter so no one gets a leg up by doing that. The problem is how leadership hopefuls put their stamp on Jack Layton's manifesto death bed letter. 
Passion may be the first thing Mulcair can use against a sombre Topp who has a demeanour of a seasoned back room person.  But can Mulcair harness the vision of Jack Layton better than Brian Topp? Can he marshall the membership to basic principles of the NDP? I would say that this process is a very hard uphill battle for Thomas Mulcair because Topp is election strategist  who did the 2011 election. Topp has these credentials in spades.
The real problem as the NDP seeks a leader is simply that the Harper Conservatives will get an easy ride in parliament for this session. Thomas Mulcair may find it difficult to be around parliament too much if he runs. He will have to campaign for the hearts of the party faithful between now and the new year.
Parliamentary performance important.
Things will slip as the Conservative front bench makes mincemeat out of the inexperienced NDP parliamentary caucus using their majority to ram bills through the House of Commons with scant attention to any opposition criticism. Mulcair is needed in parliament and he needs while he needs to get the membership thinking that he has a chance. However, first he has to decide to run despite the odds stacked against him.
It will be an uphill battle and perhaps a lose-lose if the NDP looks bad in parliament and Mulcair is drawn into a leadership campaign and falls on stoney ground. It also looks even worse if the NDP is seen to be presenting a crown to Brian Topp who is without a seat in parliament. How democratic is that scenario and does that gel with Jack Layton's manifesto?
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.
22 September 2011 Errata: 
I said today in the above story that Brian Topp was the only declared candidate for the federal NDP leadership. That is not true. Declared candidates are currently: party strategist Brian Topp and Quebec MP Roméo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou). Sorry-Tom Thorne

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