National Column: Mulcair and the 70% solution

by Tim Harper

If New Democrats feel they wrongly moved to the centre during last year’s election campaign, they should resist a similar move to the messy middle at this weekend’s national convention.

On this, I am not talking about policy. I am talking about support for Thomas Mulcair, because numbers matter more than ever.

Any level of support from Edmonton delegates north of 70 per cent and the party and Mulcair can put the leadership question to bed, at least for a couple of years.

Anything below 60 and Mulcair is finished.

But anything in between – say 65 – and Mulcair becomes dead leader walking if he chooses to stay.

In this unpalatable scenario, one in three party members want to show the leader the door and no matter how hard he works, he will have a target on his back and will be looking over his shoulder.

Such a number will embolden opponents to be more public in their criticism.

Those who have kept quiet knowing their party aspirations would be blunted if Mulcair emerged from Sunday strengthened would have nothing to keep them quiet at that point.

Would-be successors not now organizing would begin to do so with a leader with a support level in the 60s. Every action and answer from Mulcair will be seen through the prism of the leadership question and it would be a death from a thousand cuts.

Very unNDP-like – but real.

Since I wrote about Mulcair a week ago, it has become apparent he is in deeper trouble than first thought.

But this is a bit of a political potboiler, because no one, not even those close to the leader, really know the level of support Mulcair will win.

They worry about a 2016 version of “Flora Syndrome,” named for Flora MacDonald, the late one-time candidate for leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives whose pledged support evaporated in the ballot box.

New Democrats seem particularly enamoured of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn these days, but neither the man seeking the Democratic presidential nomination nor the leader of Britain’s Labour Party have won anything.

Some playing the “what if” game here might be seeing a golden age of democratic socialism, which is illusory.

But if the party chooses to move in that direction it must determine whether Mulcair is the right person to sell that vision.

Without fire in his belly for a platform that would move the party farther to the left, Mulcair will be a poor salesman.

Wednesday, CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge dragged Mulcair into the question of keeping fossil fuels in the ground as the ultimate move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“If the party decides that that’s the way, as the leader of the party I will be . . . I will do everything I can to make that a reality,” Mulcair said. He didn’t sound like he meant it.

Ahead of his Sunday speech, here are five questions New Democrats should answer.

If not Mulcair, who?

It’s not enough to believe a leadership race will magically conjure up a candidate who would bring the party to the Promised Land. There is no one in caucus who can hold a government to account – in both official languages – like Mulcair. Nathan Cullen would have to shed a 2012 policy of aligning with Liberals, Megan Leslie would have to build on her environmental credentials, and Avi Lewis, a key backer of the Leap Manifesto, says he doesn’t want the job.

Does a move too far left again render the party the unelectable conscience of Parliament?

Political fortunes are cyclical. Five years ago, serious questions were being asked about the need for a Liberal party. A Leap too far takes the party out of the mix.

What system are you competing under in 2019?

Liberals are promising electoral reform. It would be strategically smart to delay a leadership vote until New Democrats know whether a new system might help their electoral prospects.

If Mulcair survives Sunday but party fortunes continue to sag would he step down on his own?

He would be given an opportunity to resign with dignity and for the good of the party but many believe it would be a tall order to convince him he must step aside two years hence if he wins support Sunday.

Is there the money and energy for a leadership race?

Malaise and lack of funds is hardly a ringing endorsement of the leader, but it is still a logical reason to delay something which will further drain meagre party resources.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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