The Commons: First impressions hastily made

The NDP holds its first leadership debate


Early on in the first NDP leadership debate, one of the moderators admonished the audience for applauding. There was apparently no time for such stuff. Indeed, there was barely any time to say much of anything.

The nine individuals arrayed before us, setup before a backdrop of fidgety humanity, took turns talking fast. Blessed were those who finished their sentences before the moderators, talking fast themselves, demanded that someone else start talking. Within this two-hour lightning round was something called “rapid fire,” in which each candidate was given 15 seconds to explain how they’d revolutionize the national economy or balance the federal budget. It was a perfect blur for the Twitter age, everything made to be answerable in 140 characters or less. Poor Romeo Saganash, suffering from bronchitis, spent the afternoon struggling to catch his breath.

For the purposes of getting through nine candidates and two languages in a scant two hours, it helped that everyone seemed to concur with everyone else. On the generally stated principles of New Democratic governance, the candidates took turns stating their agreement with each other: about inclusiveness and equality and building a green economy and rejecting corporate tax cuts and so on. Nathan Cullen even managed an “amen” to something Mr. Saganash said. And all were equally agreed about who they disagreed with, namely Stephen Harper.

This was, granted, mostly a matter of formality and practicality: necessary introductions on a first date. So what stood out from this afternoon of speed dating?

Robert Chisholm is blessed of a reasonably square jaw and reasonably broad shoulders and those things would probably matter more if he could also speak French.

Nathan Cullen is enjoying himself. He cracked jokes, he laughed, he poked fun and he generally carried himself like he had nothing to lose, which is a lovely way to carry oneself so long as it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Niki Ashton is blessed of the fierce urgency of now. And when each of the nine candidates was asked to name their second choice, after themselves, for leader, two—Peggy Nash and Brian Topp—identified the 29-year-old Manitoban. So either Ms. Ashton is legitimately impressing her fellow candidates or she’s perceived as among the least threatening.

Brian Topp is eager for a fight. While several of the other perceived frontrunners—Ms. Nash, Paul Dewar and Thomas Mulcair were content to state their own cases and leave it at that—Mr. Topp went out of his way to challenge his rivals. “In May, Jack Layton brought us one step away from being the government of Canada and now we’re all going across the country and members are asking us, ‘Next time can we win?’ And the members are asking us, ‘If we win, will it be worth it?’ ” he posited with his opening statement. “And my answer is that it won’t be worth it if all we’re about is managing the status quo—that’s what Liberals for. And we won’t win if all we do is talk to ourselves about ourselves and talk in platitudes.” Before that minute was up, he’d said “win” twice more and used the word “fight” five times.

Twenty minutes later, during one of the mini-debates within the debate, he took the opportunity to take aim at Mr. Dewar, challenging him to explain how he would pay for his priorities. Mr. Dewar tried to ignore him, but Mr. Topp came back, accusing Mr. Dewar of proposing to add to the public debt. Mr. Dewar insisted that the topic to be discussed at that moment was the environment and that Mr. Topp didn’t have a plan in this regard. After some degree of crosstalk between the two, Mr. Mulcair seemed to bail Mr. Dewar out with the suggestion that a cap-and-trade system would generate revenue.

That was more or less the extent of the afternoon’s conflict. When Mr. Topp raised his tax proposals awhile later, Mr. Chisholm allowed that Mr. Topp’s plan was “interesting.” A moment later Mr. Chisholm upgraded that to “very interesting.”

With the formalities of this first date out of the way, one imagines matters will get more interesting.


The Commons: First impressions hastily made

  1. I’d be curious to know how many times the name “Jack Layton” was referenced.

    • Fewer than you’d think. More by Mulcair than anyone else, but it was less of a weird Jackfest than you might expect.

  2. When Brian Topp called Peggy Nash sister that did it for me. All the credibility was gone. This is not suppose to be a union revival. This is suppose to be about a serious political party trying to elect the next leader of the official opposition.

    The fact is most Canadians don’t belong to a union and in fact unions are not much loved by Canadians at this time. So to call Nash sister was a real slap in the face for the non union workers of Canada. It almost reminds of communism. Never mind almost. It does. Everything controlled by the state.

    If the NDP is perceived by Canadians to be in the pocket of the unions it will have a hard time expanding it electoral base in the next election. It needs to do that if it has any hope of gaining government.

    Peggy Nash would be a disaster for the country. She appears to think unions are an extension of the party and the government. Trouble is she could come up the middle and win the whole thing.

    None of these people looked prime ministerial to me. They looked like a pile of socialists spouting their usual platitudes that we have heard ad nauseum for years.

    • ‘At the beginning of 2010, the labour organization information obtained indicates that 4,645,095 workers were union members. Consequently, the unionization rate or union density (union membership as a percentage of non-agricultural paid employment) is 30.8% for 2010. In comparison, Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey on the unionization rate of paid employees is estimated at 29.6% for the first 6 months of 2010’


      • The fact is most of these union members are probably public sector workers.

        • Public sector workers who work, vote, pay taxes and serve the public. Why wouldn’t they count?

          • There is no other party that is associated with the union movement as much as the NDP and you know it. The union movement is not a major part of our work force at only 30% as you were quick to point out.
            All parties pander to their base. Libs did it with the immigrant community for years. Yes Harper panders to his Western base.

          • Of course they count.

            However, the only thing I would point out is that private sector unions are faced with the reality of the marketplace. Public sector unions not so much. They have achieved wages and benefits in a lot of cases that are only dreamt of in the private sector. Talk about income equality.

            I want to see fairness. The public sector unions think they can demand whatever they want and the money pit is bottomless. When the public sector unions strike theye are saying in essence I want more of what you (the taxpayer) makes.

            Remember when the p.s. unions strike they are striking against their fellow taxpayers. The government has no money of its own. The only money they have is what they receive from taxes of various forms.

      • Forgot to mention in my previous reply that the stats leave 70% of the population non unionized. So what’s your point. Last time I looked 70% was more than 30%.

        • The working population is much smaller than the total population….and unions exist in a mutltitude of fields.

          I realize you’re trying to find a scapegoat here Hollinm….but unions aren’t it.

          • I am not trying to find a scapegoat for anything. I am just simply saying that a party who lives and breathes for unions is not one who has the whole country as their concern. This is not ultruistic on the part of the NDP they need the union movement to help fund them (indirectly) and work for them. So they pander to them. They are not interested in what is in the best interest of the whole country.

          • The NDP doesn’t ‘live and breathe’ for unions, in spite of your best efforts. LOL

            Unions are, however, a major part of our work force…so naturally they are taken into account.

            Harper panders to his base you know

    • In which H. pretends he wants the NDP to have a hope of forming government. Tell the boys at Talking Point Central this approach is laughable at best

      • Never would I want an NDP government near the national treasury. Particularly not with this group of clowns.

        • They’d certainly have trouble matching Clement as Treasury. 

    • The only surprise of the evening is that it took Merv over a 100 words to say he thinks dippers are all commies, game over.

      • Did not say that but when they start calling each other brothers and sisters and refer to the movement who else on the political scene does that? Its usually the communist countries that do that.

        Vote for the NDP if you like. Its a free country.

        • No, communist countries don’t do that….but many other social groups do.

          • What in the hell does that mean? Social groups? We are talking about a political party not a social group unless you consider the NDP a social group. If they want to be taken seriously in all of Canada they need to realize that they are not a union.

          • Feminists are known as the ‘sisterhood’.

            Blacks call each other brother

            Religions preach that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

            It’s not a union thing, and the NDP is aware that it’s a political party, not a union.

        • Oh for God’s sake. this is nothing new. They’ve been calling each other brother and sister at conventions as long as I remember.  But they don’t do it excessively the way Harper uses the word ‘friends’ to address his devotees.

  3. ‘given 15 seconds to explain how they’d revolutionize the national economy’

    Oh…so noooo pressure then.  LOL

    • Whose fault is that Emily? Its probably intentional. If any of these people start talking about the economy they will all start to outbid each other to see who can confiscate more from those that acutally have a job. I did not hear one concrete solution to help the economy.

      • LOL it’s just a feature of the debate, and a feature of our society that we want the answer to complex questions in 15 seconds..

        Stop speaking sloganese.

        • Hey it was you that was criticizing the format. The fact is it happens in all political debates. You have a pile of candidates on the stage who are sometimes asked complicated questions which results in bromides and platitudes. However, most politicans use the format of the debate to hide their real intentions.

          • No, I was laughing at the format.

            Politicians don’t have ‘real intentions’….mostly they just want to get through it without a ‘gotcha’

  4. They really need to cull some candidates from these debates – 9 candidates is too many. Biggest surprise for me was that Topp has a stronger Quebecois accent when speaking English than Mulcair. 

  5. I didn`t like the orange maple leaves. Other than that I don`t care.

  6. A drum circle in a public park would have been a more fitting forum for this event.

    Nobody takes the NDP seriously anyway.

    Kumbaya brothers and sisters, welcome the the movement!

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