Thomas Mulcair’s victory here at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto came after a wearying day of technical delays that stretched the voting, and vote-counting, hours later than expected. Still, the partisan crowd was, if not exactly pumped, at least eager to cheer his win.
He didn’t make it easy for them. A too-long speech from the podium featured such rousing material as statistics on low youth voter turnout. I couldn’t help but notice that the first spontaneous burst of applause he generated was with a line about how Jack Layton had given folks reason to believe.
At yesterday’s so-called leaders’ showcase, Mulcair’s awful speech was forgivable (and forgiven by most) as the result of his need to rush at a ridiculous pace to make up for the fact that his advance convention-floor hoopla had eaten into his allotted speaking time. There was no similar excuse for the victory speech falling as flat as it did.
And this raises a question: is Mulcair as skillful a political performer as he has mostly been given credit for during this race? The book on him has been that he’s got top-drawer ability as a retail politician, even if his behind-the-scenes style with those who must work closely with him can be a bit prickly.
In fact, the evidence of the convention is that he is far from a can’t-miss proposition as a deliverer of set-piece speeches. There are other important skills in modern politics—handling a broadcast interview, sparring in debates or in the House—but being able to come through when old-fashioned oratory is needed still counts.
So he’ll have to work on it. It might seem too narrow a focus to concentrate on speechifying, but here’s the thing about mass political gatherings of all sorts—that’s largely what they are about. Tomorrow, Mulcair is expected to meet the media for his first news conference as NDP leader. Handling one of those is another basic element of his new job. To start putting to rest doubts raised over the past two days, he needs to look better than sure-footed.