Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – NDP Leadership Question will lead to Thomas Mulcair – August 26, 2011

CFN – Should I jump in or stay out, that is the question potential NDP leadership successors are asking themselves. No one will publically admit anything at this time as it would be in poor taste to say anything until after this weekend, but at that point the gloves can come off and ambition and ego will be given free reign.

The media has already begun to speculate about who the potential frontrunners might be, but do these potential candidates have what it takes? That is not a rhetorical question as they must be able to build their own profile, keep the party together, and appeal to both Quebec and the rest of Canada while performing in Jack Layton’s shadow.

This will be a major problem for the next NDP leader.  The party fought the last election around the personality and strengths of its leader. Layton came to personify the party, the question now becomes how do they move forward and how does the next leader fill Jack’s shoes? This is always a problem when a party goes overboard with elevating their leader to be the end all in an election. It doesn’t allow others to step out from under the leader’s shadow or give them the opportunity to create their own profile with both the public and the media. While that prevents challengers from dethroning the king, in the long run it hurts the party.

It doesn’t matter who wins the crown in the next NDP leadership race, they will be constantly compared to Layton. They will be judged on how well they manage the Quebec caucus and how successful they will be in their attempt to maintain the NDP’s Quebec popularity. Their success will be measured against Jack’s. If polling numbers in Quebec drop it will be a major negative for them. It will be a tough act to follow and potential leadership candidates will need to evaluate if it is better to jump in now or sit this one out and wait until there is a future leadership opening when they can be more fairly judged against the then leader.

The situation today is not unlike what happened when Ed Broadbent resigned in 1989 and both Audrey McLaughlin (1989-95) and Alexa McDonough (1995-2003) had to lead the NDP while being measured against Broadbent, one of the political giants of that era and one of its most popular leaders.

Other than Thomas Mulcair and Gary Doer, most of the other potential candidates being mentioned at this time don’t have the media profile and experience that is needed to become an instant Leader of the Official Opposition. While there are some very talented people in the NDP caucus and organization, none of them has the profile or wide spread public acceptance that Layton did.

Even if Mulcair was to toss his hat into the race, there is no guarantee that this relative newcomer to the NDP would win. The NDP Quebec base is weak and its organization lacking. Most of the Quebec caucus have no idea what a leadership race is like, how cut throat it can be or how career limiting it might be if they support the wrong candidate. They will be learning as they go which should make for shifting alliances as the race unfolds.

At the same time it is quite valid to question Mulcair’s support across the country. Will we see an ABM campaign develop IE “Anyone But Mulcair?” With a one member, one vote system, western and Ontario ridings with a larger membership base will have an excellent opportunity to decide who the new leader will be.

Gary Doer does have the profile and experience to move quickly into a leadership role and he will be able to hold his own in Question Period. The issue will be whether or not he wants to be thrust into the maelstrom of federal politics or will he prefer the life he has now. The pressure on Doer to jump in will be intense over the next few weeks.

Another question that the NDP must consider is do they want a leader who doesn’t have a seat in the House of Commons.  For example, should someone who is not a sitting MP win the leadership, they will have to run in a bye-election.  In other words, sit in the gallery of the House of Commons while others steal the spotlight in Question Period. Ask Elizabeth May how easy a task that is.

It would also give rise to plenty of speculation about which MP would be willing to step down to let the new leader run in their seat. That is rarely a positive situation or story for a party that wants to claim it is a government in waiting. Such a situation also leaves the new leader at the mercy of the Prime Minister who can decide when to call the bye-election. Also keep in mind that when Stephen Harper ran in a bye-election in 2002, the NDP ran a candidate against him, therefore there is no need for Tories to play nice should a future NDP leader also have to seek a seat before the next federal election.

All in all it will make for an interesting leadership campaign. Now all the future contenders have to do is decide if they are in or out?

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.



  1. Has anyone thought that Olivia Chow might like to run as Leader?

  2. Cornwall Harry I am curious why you think Olivia Chow should be considered. What does she bring to the table at the federal level and what is her claim to fame that makes so she can balance the politics and self interests within the NDP and its overwhelming Quebec caucus and inexperienced newbies. Layton had much charisma and people felt and bought into it. The popularity of Layton and the NDP in Quebec certainly had nothing to do with NDP mantra… it had to do with Jack Layton. If Olivia was to run as leader I strongly believe infighting within NDP ranks would ensure and perchance become more so than with the Liberals.

  3. All this will play out after Jack’s funeral. Maybe we should wait just one more day before picking the bones apart. Let’s have a little class.

  4. To reiterate… what does Chow bring to the table at the federal level? With the upcoming difficulties and political landmines awaiting the NDP I believe she would be a illogical choice. Then again with the NDP so endeared to political correctness instead of logic perhaps for the NDP mindset she would be the logical choice.

    This is a opportune moment for the Liberals. With that thought in mind… Layton’s choice of Turmel was foolish and careless. It was not a wise choice and another similar miscalculation could be with dire consequences. Whatever the NDP caucus decides… for their sake they better get it right!

    If it was Jack’s charisma that carried the day in Quebec and not NDP policy… perhaps Chow can fill that void. Perchance emotion across the nation is such that she can follow in his footsteps. I suspect however that is more fantasy and wishful thinking than fact.

  5. As of today, Olivia hasn’t indicated that she wants to lead the party. Lord Jesus, Garfield! Her husband died exactly one week ago. Let’s give her time to decide what she’s going to do with the rest of her life, before hurling insults. Some of you (not all) Cons really do have a deficit in decency and class.

  6. Ohhh stop with the Jack Layton just passed away shtick. Media is commenting on such both via online and in print. It is a valid question and valid topic. These questions are today and past few days mentioned in mainstream media. Layton was no Saint… he was a politician and a egotistical, hypocritical, self serving politician at that. I gave him my respect and have subdued my opinions of him. The NDP is in a leadership quandary amongst other quandaries. It is a valid concern, valid curiosity and I feel it is valid to be discussed. I am not talking to Olivia Chow… she can take all the personal time she wants. Her opinion is not being sought in this forum. I have simply replied to Cornwall Harry and now have come back to express my viewpoint.

    If you see my comments as insults then that is your perception. I do not see it that way. Trust me… my comments of Jack Layton are much more mellow than many that are posted online. My questions and comments are valid and with substance. If that offends you… so be it it, but i do not believe I am obligated to continue to be muted just because not doing so ruffles your feathers.

  7. I guess expecting a classless boor to display a little class is stupid on my part. Carry on.

  8. In becoming official opposition Layton has given the NDP a increased level of respect. Now that he is gone does that fragile house of cards fall apart? I think it depends on the next leader of the NDP. Layton was expert at preening for the media and was with survivor skills and with knack for effective quips. In his absence is this caucus of inexperienced newbies with survivor skills? Can the next leader connect with the electorate? It is a tall order! Not just any leader will do. Turmel for example was a disaster. Next NDP leader must be with similar media savvy as Jack and also bilingual. Said leader will have to balance the new Quebec powerhouse and interests with Canada’s other other NDP support bases.

    NDP policy that caters to Quebec… will it be tolerated by non-Quebec NDPers? For example will BC NDPers agree with the Party’s stand against the new seat redistribution formula? Who is leader enough to bridge Quebec and non-Quebec issues! If the NDP falters does the Bloc experience a resurgence… do the Liberals experience quick resurgence if the new NDP leader falters or fails to maintain consensus? Who is with capability to transform the inexperienced Quebec newbies into a force to be reckoned with? It is no easy task! Current NDP caucus is with rookies and those of separatist and communist mindset. Who is with ability to get them all on the same page and to appease both Canada’s and Quebec’s interests. In catering to Quebec interests as the NDP absolute shall… will they slide into separatist philosophy? Which potential leader can ensure such does not happen?

    With all these distractions, who is with capability to at same time fend off the Liberal resurgence? There is much challenge ahead for the NDP and their new leader… are they up to the challenge? The next leader is with big shoes to fill… can they do it? Who will the next leader be… are they with a persona to accomplish what must be accomplished! So many questions and so few answers… time will tell!

  9. Furtz’ feathers get ruffled often….

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