NDP leadership: toward a Topp-Mulcair alliance?

‘It has to be either Brian or Thomas’


How intriguing Daniel Leblanc’s new Globe story on the NDP leadership campaign is. Here are two Quebec MPs, each supporting a different candidate, who say the final choice must come down to one of two men: Brian Topp or Thomas Mulcair. (I keep listing Topp first for the sole purpose of getting a rise out of Mulcair, and I have watched him long enough to have no doubt it’s working. Punditry is fun.)

Françoise Boivin, Topp supporter: “It has to be either Brian or Thomas. I feel we have better odds of forming the next government with Brian Topp, but I don’t think we’d do badly with Thomas Mulcair.”

Tarik Brahmi, Mulcair supporter: ““I’m behind Thomas Mulcair. However, I’d prefer if the winner were Brian Topp instead of everyone’s second choice.”

Two things seem to be going on here. (I say “seem to be” because none of the voter ID that’s been released publicly seems to be accurate enough to give anybody a solid sense of each candidate’s support. So there’s a lot of guesswork in anyone’s analysis.)

1. Quebec New Democrats have decided, understandably, that securing the unprecedented 2011 breakthrough in Quebec must be Job One for a new leader, and that a leader who cannot pass as a Quebecer — at least as much of a Quebecer as Jack Layton of Hudson by way of Toronto-Danforth — cannot do that. Here, it’s striking that Brahmi, at least, believes Brian Topp clears that hurdle. There has been some attempt by other New Democrats, and by a few Quebec commentators, to shrink the circle of acceptable candidates down to a diameter of 1 Mulcair. Brahmi, at least, isn’t buying it.

2. When Brahmi says he supports Mulcair, Topp, and “everyone’s second choice” in that order, he’s suggesting he doesn’t think Topp is everybody’s second choice. Indeed, my own hunch for a while has been that Peggy Nash will be the consensus candidate to whom everyone’s votes slide in the end, simply because Nash looks like the sort of New Democrat New Democrats think of when they try to think of a New Democrat. (Stop me if I get too scientifically rigorous.) As a bonus, the policy work I’ve seen from Nash seems unusually thoughtful and serious, but I’m assuming that counts for close to nothing in a leadership contest.

But at the secret Maclean’s nerve centre, buried into the side of a mountain in Ottawa, we’ve all been surprised by the depth and enthusiasm of Paul Dewar’s support. He has roots in the party and in Ottawa, where a lot of New Democrats have done time, and he’s easy to like. Maybe he’s “everyone’s second choice,” and that would certainly explain why the party’s Quebec contingent is in a mood to be flexible, because Dewar’s French is worse than Stéphane Dion’s English.

Objectively, there’s room for Topp and Mulcair to argue that each’s supporters must prefer the other over the rest of the field. This argument would have considerable traction outside Quebec, because it’s not only Quebecers who view the party’s 58 Quebec seats as a prize worth trying to preserve. One obstacle is that Topp and Mulcair have not shown conspicuous fondness for each other. (Mulcair looked like the heir apparent for a couple of years there, but then suddenly last summer Topp looked like the party brass’s designated blocker.)

As a bonus, my reading of the leader selection process suggests there’ll be some room for cajoling of support between ballots on the day of the vote. So the arguments I’ve rehearsed here, for now unstated by most New Democrats, could be made quite forcefully on the convention floor and, on Twitter, to party members across the country, on the fateful day.


NDP leadership: toward a Topp-Mulcair alliance?

  1. I keep hearing that the NS candidate has signed up many Sikhs as members in BC and the Toronto ‘burbs. What happens if he has a huge bloc of votes? or if he has the most votes? or if, heaven forfend, he wins?
       I love the NDP!

  2. My guess is that Nash and Dewar will form the alliance (somewhat like Kennedy-Dion) and that Topp and Mulclair are too proud to even consider losing (not unlike Ignatieff and Rae).  

    • Mulcair maybe, but Topp probably has more skin in the game than anyone, when it comes to the NDP’s chance of holding their gains and building on them. I can’t see him thinking himself or bust.

  3. Quebecers forget NDP, and Cons, think of themselves as national parties and not Que parties. Que is going through remarkably immature phase at moment because there have been a bunch of stories recently about how 3 main parties aren’t doing enough for Que and they are feeling ignored. 

    Cons would be delighted if both NDP and Libs dedicate themselves to courting Que vote because that will leave field wide open for Cons in Rest of Canada. NDP, Libs, BQ can divide Que’s 70+ seats amongst themselves and Cons will form majority governments.

    I have two southern ontario NDP female friends who support Nash and Dewar and they don’t like Que nationalism. My impression is that dippers outside Que think leadership race is about ideology and policies, not birth certificates, and it does not matter who wins because party comes first. 

    Online voting sounds interesting – will be impressive and exciting if it works but disaster if there are problems. People will be muttering about frauds and conspiracies if their votes are not being counted due to technological glitches. 

    “Vote online on March 24th. It’s the next best thing to being at convention. You can join the excitement live online and vote for the next leader of Canada’s New Democrats at the same time as those on the convention floor.

    You’ll need to be ready to vote throughout the day in each round of balloting – as it happens. But don’t worry, you can vote from any computer or smartphone – anywhere.

    Please note that you will not be able to vote preferentially on this day. To participate, you will need to be following the convention – and take part in each round of balloting.”

  4. Perhaps it’s time for a triumvirate of leadership for the NDP. 

    Mulcair, Topp and Nash shall lead the way for the glorious coming transformation:

    The People’s Socialist Democratic Republic of Canada!

  5. I don’t expect them to hold onto their Quebec seats but to drop back into a near 4-way tie with the BQ, Libs, and Cons. 

    That being said, I’d expect it to happen right away with Dewar at the helm.  If they cannot stand for a hockey coach that doesn’t speak French, I cannot imagine they could vote for a party leader with bad French.

  6. Paul Dewar was born in Ottawa, the most bilingual city in the country, almost 50 years ago. His mother is a former mayor and MP in the city. It appears he has had considerable educational and social opportunity to become proficient in French.

    Somebody should tell him that if he doesn`t have the intelligence to know French after the opportunities he has been given then he probably doesn`t have the qualities to be a candidate for Prime Minister. 

    • Wrong.

      I agree with you it has been a mistake on his part or any MP to not be fully bilingual. But Dewar is the only one of all of this guys who can actually make NDP grow outside of Quebec and Ontario.

      French can be learned, leadership skills cannot and he does have them.

      • Claudia:  I can`t see where Dewar could make up for those 40 seats he will lose in Quebec.

        I`ll take your word for it that Dewar has leadership skills. That should mean that he has wanted to be leader for some time. He knows that one of the prerequisites for a leader is French proficiency. That tells me he is having a problem picking up a second language.

        • I don’t disagree about the French, terrible strategy. IMO ALL MP’s need to be bilingual, it should be mandatory, weather they have leadership aspirations or not.  Having said that, I don’t think he was thinking “Who hoo Jack is going to die” I can go for Leadership now. Jack was expected to be there for many, many years to come.

          Mulcair, Topp, Nash and Cullen aren’t good news for the NDP and wether you want to believe it or not, the ball is on Harper’s corner with them. Harper is scared of Dewar not the other ones, it will be so easy to to make them the laughing stock, just as Ignatieff or Dion with Dewar he doesn’t have that.

  7. Oh my Gawd, can you ever imagine a UNION ORGANIZER or any union official of becoming The Prime Minister of Canada. We would be ruined within 3 weeks.

    • NDP won’t form a Federal Government anytime soon. Unless of course they decide to form a coalition with Rae and that’s one scary thought. So yes, coalition will be a part of next election too hehe.

  8. Paul reminds me of Gary Doer. he has the goods and french can be learned. He has the goods to make NDP grow in the west plus smart campaign he is running. I keep repeating myself with this buthe is the dark horse in this race.

  9. An interesting question… what do the liberal-minded Anybody But Harper voters around here want to see happen, if Cullen is not an option?

    By the same token, what does a Conservative want to see? A strong leader for the NDP is a tough opponent, but also keeps the Liberals down. If the NDP vanishes back to its plodding conscience-of-Parliament status, it means you don’t lose to them, but might be facing your more traditional rival again. I think the Tories probably want to see the NDP consolidate their 2011 gains and not much more, so Mulcair seems the man for the job.