There’s broadening agreement that Thomas Mulcair is the man to beat in the race to succeed the late Jack Layton as leader of the federal New Democratic Party.
Last night, seven contenders for the spot as Official Opposition Leader squared off in the last debate before social democrats congregate in Toronto on March 23 and 24 to elect their new chief. In an indication that Mulcair is perceived as the frontrunner, much of the debate was filled with digs at his platform that promises to “modernize” the NDP to broaden its appeal beyond its left-wing base. Fellow candidate Paul Dewar, for example, told Mulcair that “it seems like you’re a little down on the party,” asking him how he expects “to inspire people to vote for our party when you don’t seem to be inspired by our party?”
As the race enters its final lap, much has been made of Mulcair’s past as a cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Quebec Premier Jean Charest—and there’s been some disquiet over the suggestion he would move the party toward to political centre. Brian Topp, the favourite of the NDP’s old guard, warned at the debate that such a tactical move would damage the party by blurring the distinction between the NDP and Liberals. He asked: “Shouldn’t we be attacking unfair taxes and climate change and inequality—the issues our party was founded to fight?”
But the way Mulcair seems to see it, the best way to fight for one’s beliefs is to do so from a position of power. And to gain that standing, one must make a play for more centrist voters.