Broadbent and everything after


It’s hard to do one of these insta-bake histories of a complex historical event for the next day’s paper, and Joanna Smith has produced a good one in The Star. Now I’m going to pick away at some assumptions her sources make near the end.

Nothing seemed to stick, whether more details about his flirtation with the federal Conservatives — anonymous senior New Democrats piled on, in addition to the usual suspects — or an eleventh-hour broadside from a bitter-sounding [Ed] Broadbent.

Instead, the attacks backfired.

“Ed is like most politicians, first and foremost a competitive animal,” says Michael Byers, echoing a perspective of many in all camps. “His particular horse was lagging in the race and therefore he did what competitive people do, and sought to bolster Brian’s chances.”

This analysis is solidly in line with the hearts-aflutter concern trolling we heard from just about everybody after Ed Broadbent, a card-carrying member of the New Democratic Party with a demonstrated history of concern for its fortunes, said his support for Brian Topp reflected concern about Mulcair. What followed from some of the graybacks of the Gallery was a familiar two-step: (1) criticize Broadbent; (2) note that Broadbent was “facing criticism.”

Of course there’s not a scrap of evidence for a backlash.

The second interview Mulcair gave after winning the leadership was with Peter Mansbridge at the CBC. In the odd way he has, he managed to reveal that he was a genius surrounded by geniuses, and that his armies of genius phone-bank operators had accurately tracked every change in the campaign dynamic to the last decimal. (“There’s a lot of science in this.”)

And what did they track? A late-inning collapse in support for Peggy Nash, and a closing surge in support for Topp.

This news leaves a lot unanswered. It’s hardly clear that the Nash and Topp campaigns were a closed system that bled support from one jar to the next. It’s not even guaranteed that Topp’s increased support can be attributed to Broadbent’s remarks. All we know is that after Broadbent spoke, while just about every commentator not named Wells or Cosh was going Oh tsk-tsk, old people mustn’t express strong feelings, Topp’s campaign went from shaky to strong. Which isn’t what backfiring looks like.

Topp’s progress continued on the convention floor. When he pushed the voting to a fourth ballot, correctly exercising his formal rights but foregoing a chance to make the decision unanimous much earlier, I heard from some annoyed New Democrats. My own advice to Topp would have been to throw in the towel. I wondered whether disgust with Topp’s obstinacy would lead to a decline in support between the third and fourth ballots.

It sure didn’t. The increase in Topp’s vote, from the third to the fourth ballot, was 86% as large as the increase in Mulcair’s vote. Even though Mulcair’s victory was assured. Even though just about every caucus endorsement was going to Mulcair by now. On the last ballot Topp won just shy of 43% of the vote.

A lot of people preferred other candidates to Mulcair. When Broadbent said so, it didn’t stop the candidate he endorsed from making gains. When that candidate pushed his effort to the very end, New Democrats kept coming to him.

It’s a small point but I wanted to emphasize it because it’s always surprising how eager people are to criticize the frank expression of political difference.

One more thing, also obvious I hope. Topp lost, and Mulcair’s mandate to lead is clear. It’s not in New Democrats’ interest to deepen the campaign’s legitimate divisions into permanent rifts.


Broadbent and everything after

  1. Well the upshot of it all seems to be that Mulcair won, and nobody’s happy about it.  Strange.

    •  I’m happy about it. Is he the perfect leader? No. Good leader? Yes. Great? It took about 8 years to find out Jack Layton was a great leader. And I wasn’t completely enamored with him, until near the end. Success will do that for a leader. Thomas Mulclair was my 2nd choice until near the end of the campaign when Cullen bumped him out. Still my 3rd choice, so I wish I had voted in advance and avoided all the technical difficulties. Most people were smart enough to do that. Or lucky.

  2. I’m not quite sure what your point is.  That Topp with roughly a similar percentage of votes from ndp delegates (43%) to Harper’s 39% support from Canadians means that he should have become leader?  Let’s remember that Topp received about 3/4 the votes of Mulcair.  I recall Referenda on the Quebec question where the Yes was about 98% of the votes of the ‘No’ side – good enough.  You did find a unique perspective – I’m sure what MacLean’s expects – but newsworthy?  I don’t think so.

    • I’m not quite sure what your point is.

      You made that clear, Doug.  Try reading the article again.  Slowly, if necessary.  Paul’s point is nothing like your attempt to paraphrase.

  3. I think the Mulcair victory is a bit of a weird result given the ambivalent and ambiguous message that his candidacy seemed to send out.  He wasn’t really any kind of a radical departure from NDP orthodoxy, yet he got labelled as this “reformer” or “outsider” type by other candidates.  I don’t know that I see him taking the NDP into any truly new territory substantively.  I think what’s likely is he’ll attempt the same balancing act that Layton did — pretending to be something a little bit different and more palatable to the average Canadian voter, while trying to keep the True Believers happy.  Problem is, I think, the NDP went about as far as it could go in that direction with Layton.  It would take either an extremely talented leader and/or the further collapse of the Liberal party for the NDP to make any further significant gains.

    And now that the leader is chosen, there’s going to be more of an expectation for the NDP to start taking distinctive, public stands on the issues of the day — which is significantly more risky and challenging than telegraphing to the voters how nice it would be to have a beer with Happy Jack.

  4. Jack Layton had advice  for the NDP membership, and it was not subliminal, when in an unusual ploy, he decreed that Turmel be temporary leader.When Jack Layton saddled ( is there a better word) the party with Turmel as leader, Jack Layton had  a message for the NDP party, and was not afraid to openly tell them he had mistrust, suspicion and reluctance to give deputy leader Mulcair the reins of the party, even when Jack still had a presence. 

    • I think much more likely is that Jack didn’t want to put some in the position of deputy leader who would likely be running for the leadership, so he chose someone who definitely wasn’t going to run for it. Putting Mulcair in would have made it look like he was either anointing his successor, or excluding them from the race. 

      Look at the awkward spot the LPC are in now with the guy who’s the probably their best bet for leader being the interim leader. It’s a bit awkward, to say the least.

    • Or he chose someone to be interim leader that wouldn’t be a leadership contender, because the person could not be both.

    •  Turmel was useless as an interim leader, but who cares. I think that was Jack playing to Quebec’s huge role in making the NDP the official opposition. In 3 years, during the next election no one will remember her leadership. Might help to highlight Mulcair since the contrast will be so great. He will spring to being the lead in criticizing Conservatives ahead of Bob Rae who is now taking the lead. Again, even this won’t matter that much with the electorate at the next election, though it may colour the pundits view of his leadership.

      BTW, interim leaders do not generally run in the leadership race. If you don’t know this, you don’t know much.

  5. I don’t know a lot about Mulcair, but I do know he has an arrogance and a temper that could get him into trouble quite easily.  I don’t think he can win an election for that reason.

    • That is the Con talking point – or one of them..  Rumour has  it your guy likes to beat  up chairs, and has  anybody ever accused  him of being modes?.  It is always amazing how far character flaws get people.

      • Conservatives win elections. 
        NDP usually come in third or fourth and by a fluke came second in 2011.

        • That’s some quality argument right there. 

          • It is a factual argument, as opposed to the rumours of Jan.

          •  And the PC’s won huge majorities by fluke in 1984 and 1988 by fluke and were reduced to 2 seats by fluke and the natural governing party the Liberals, lost by fluke in 2006 and … That these events happened by fluke and not because of policies and the leader’s ability to sell them as well of the mistakes of other parties and scandals is a strange way to look at history. The past doesn’t not foretell the future. There is lots of potential for the NDP to replace the Liberals as the main centre left party. Mulcair’s intentions to move more to the centre will help this. The conservatives still concentrating on Bob Rae and the Liberals will also help. Did you know the NDP ran 2nd in more than a hundred ridings? Looks like the alternative to the CPC to me. Whether they can consolidate , grow and help eliminate the Liberals is the real question of the next 3-10 years A lot of that will be up to Mulcair. When Harper leaves the field will become more wide open and all bets are off.

        • Given the whole voter suppression thing, I’m not sure you can definitively claim that.

          • Please explain in detail form how individual riding results  ( including the Liberal win in the robocalling centre of Guelph ) from 2011 election would somehow change the overall seat count.

          • You have sent a link from Fantasyland.

          • The fantasy appears to be a CPC majority.

          • No that would be the reality that you live in—better get used to it.

          • Wouldn’t have, but that isn’t important. The question is did conservative operatives engage in these behaviors. If they did then this will be a strong knock on the Conservative Party. Doesn’t matter if it makes sense that they did this. Richard Nixon’s operatives did all kinds of stupid shenanigans during the 1972 election when he was very likely to win. Paranoia and a feeling of being right can make usually bright people do stupid things. We will find out if this is a blip or a real scandal.

        •  Harper had lot of negative characteristics before he became leader including doctrinaire ideology and stating what he believed, instead of what would get him elected. He was able to change. Took him two try’s and without the sponsorship scandal he wouldn’t have succeeded. We will see if Mulcair has the same smarts. He should read Well’s e-book and take lessons from it.

      • Great rumour.  I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of crazy rumours.

        I thought this was a Mulcair post, Wells wrote 10 paragraphs about Mulcair and all you want to do is talk about Harper.

        In fact, true to form, you’re once again incapable of writing more than three sentences about any topic whatsoever.

  6. I think everyone is overestimating the effect of Broadbent’s influence positive or negative. 1st while New Democrats will listen to Broadbent, they are not going to be necessarily swayed  by his arguments, especially when they seemed over the top and self-serving to his candidate. 2nd the comments came late in the campaign when most people had made up there minds. 3rd how many people had already voted by then? A substantial number may already have been sent in. Can’t change those preferences. Broadbent’s comments newsworthy? Yes. Influential? No.

  7. Didn’t advance ballots make up something like 85% of the total ballots? *If so*, then there wasn’t much opportunity for disgust at Topp’s obstinacy to play a significant role in the 4th ballot results.

  8. Another factor: despite the “science” of the Mulcair phone bank, I think it was difficult to know for sure exactly where Cullen’s vote would go in that last ballot.  Many people (myself included) using a preferential ballot and voting days or weeks before the convention would have put, say, Nash first, Cullen second or third, and Topp and Mulcair somewhere further down the list.  Nash and Cullen are lefties who tap into the “movement” side of the party.  Topp and Mulcair seem, to this faction, as olde-style machine men.  (Note that this goes against the media consensus that Mulcair is somehow a voice of “change,” for which there is some great desire among party members).

    Once Cullen and Nash are off the ballot, Topp and Broadbent’s hard-driving anybody-but-Mulcair stance *over the last few weeks* – not just at the convention – might have been expected to have some effect on these “movement” NDPers, who might have placed Topp and Mulcair near the bottom of their ballot, but been nudged to put Topp above Mulcair.

    In the end, of course, all this didn’t create much of a swing to Topp, but I can imagine that given the unpredictable nature of these various different voting processes, the Topp people would have felt an obligation to keep the door open to the possibility.

  9. Good analysis.  I didn’t think Broadbent looked so good in all this, but I couldn’t help wondering if my feeling that way was influenced by the climate.  After all, it’s hard to campaign against someone else if you aren’t allowed to speak candidly about the pros and cons of the choices before you.  In addition to explaining and forgiving Broadbent I think this analysis goes a long way toward closing the door and healing the wounds.

  10. Hey Paul;

    I think this marks the beginning of the return to the margins for the NDP.  They have been taken over by the Quebec wing which is about to flame out in Quebec and certainly is going to lose the party influence where they have it in other parts of the country.  

    •  It wasn’t the Quebec votes that gave Mulcair the leadership. The Quebec members are a small portion of NDP members. We don’t even know if they were more or less likely to vote than other areas. Most were new members. Signed up during a strong membership drive. Regardless, most of Mulcair’s votes came from the rest of the country. His support is broad.

      Also, we will see if the election of Mulcair will reverse the slide in Quebec. Turmel was a lackluster leader. Hardly got any media coverage. Mulcair will raise the profile of the NDP everywhere.

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