National Column: Angus dealt hard blow in NDP vote

by Chantal Hebert

The election of Jagmeet Singh as leader was a watershed moment for the NDP and for Canadian politics. But the blow dealt to runner-up Charlie Angus on the first and only ballot of the campaign was also revealing of the party’s mood.

On Sunday, the Timmins-James Bay MP lost both in the real world and on the field of expectations. Angus did not expect to become the NDP’s new leader on that day. But nor was his team prepared for a crushing and definitive defeat.

By the time the Liberals picked a leader in 2013, the men and women who had run against Justin
Trudeau knew they would be little more than extras on the set of a coronation.

By comparison, Angus entered the weekend of the vote cast as one of two front-runners in the campaign to succeed Thomas Mulcair, only to emerge as a distant also-ran.

A well-respected MP with more parliamentary experience than any of his three rivals, Angus had cause to hope his promise to reconnect the NDP to its roots would resonate with the party base.

He had not recruited as many new members as Singh, but polls suggested he was the popular choice among New Democrats of longer standing.

Indeed, at the time of the previous NDP leadership vote in 2012, Angus’s decision to rally Mulcair’s camp after his own preferred candidate, Paul Dewar, was eliminated, had been considered one of the more significant developments of the day.

And yet, in the end, the result was not even close.

Angus – with 19 per cent of the vote – not only finished more than 30 points behind Singh, he barely beat Niki Ashton (17 per cent) for second place.

Angus might have fared better under a riding-by-riding weighted system such as that of the Liberals and the Conservatives. The one-member-one-vote NDP formula does play to regional strengths at the potential expense of broader national appeal. Singh’s support was unevenly distributed across the country with a heavy emphasis on the GTA and the larger Vancouver area.

But the final score suggests that a significant part of the party base Angus was counting on to keep his campaign alive and get to fight another ballot was in Singh’s corner.

The appetite for a trip back to a future that stood to again feature permanent opposition as an NDP way of life turned out to be limited.

This is the same party that shocked the country’s political class by summarily handing Mulcair his walking papers a year and a half ago.

“I did not think we were that kind of people,” one New Democrat had told me in the hours after
Mulcair’s leadership had been disposed of.

Angus’s results suggest the New Democrats are indeed that kind of people. Jack Layton spent his tenure urging New Democrats to set their sights on forming a government. In the pursuit of power they are no less cold-blooded than their Conservative and Liberal counterparts.

And then it is not a reflection on Angus’s merits to note that his path to victory had the potential to poison both the New Democrat well and that of his leadership. A winning scenario for his campaign featured mostly terrible optics stretched out over two and possibly three divisive weeks.

As proud as the NDP was of the demographic diversity of its leadership lineup, it had the potential to backfire on the party.

Here is how the vote would likely have had to unfold for Angus to win.

On the first ballot, Guy Caron would have been struck from the lineup.

On Sunday, Caron finished last with 9 per cent of the vote. There is no guarantee his supporters would have even bothered to vote for one of the surviving contenders on subsequent ballots.

On week two, Ashton would have been voted off the island. It might then have taken yet another week and another round of voting for Angus to prevail over Singh.

Having beaten in succession a francophone Quebecer, a woman and a runner-up issued from the ranks of Canada’s visible minorities and done so over weeks rather than mere hours on a convention floor, Angus would have his work cut out for him trying to convince Canadians that he was taking command of a forward-looking NDP.

Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.
Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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