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.