EDMONTON — More than 1,500 NDP faithful are gathering in Edmonton today to spend the next three days sifting the ashes of last year’s ballot-box disaster — and to confront the man many blame for it.
Tom Mulcair won’t address the New Democrat convention until Sunday, when rank-and-file members will pass judgment on his leadership. But he will be on everyone’s mind all the same.
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, who has publicly declared he believes it’s time for a new leader, will address the gathering later today.
NDP President Rebecca Blaikie, the head of a working group that explored what went so wrong in last fall’s federal election, will also hear feedback from the convention floor and discuss her panel’s post-mortem findings.
Despite high hopes of forming Canada’s first NDP government prior to the start of last year’s 11-week campaign, voters ultimately slashed the party’s caucus to just 44 seats, reducing it to third-party status in the Commons.
It remains an open question whether Mulcair will stay or go after Sunday’s leadership review.
For his part, Mulcair has been actively engaged in outreach ahead of the convention to try to secure support _ efforts that have earned the confidence of longtime party members including NDP House leader Peter Julian and former Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer.
He also has the support of six major unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the United Steelworkers.
Privately, however, some New Democrats say they remain deeply troubled by Mulcair’s apparent inability to connect with Canadians and sell the party’s plan.
The NDP is not inclined to turf its leaders after disappointing elections, but there are a number of factors that make this loss more significant for supporters, including sky-high expectations around the campaign and Mulcair himself.
Another key theme expected to play out at the convention is the identity question — many supporters say they find themselves looking for a way to define what they stand for while the Liberal government pursues a more progressive agenda.
The direction of the NDP could be significantly altered this weekend by a push from a number of riding associations who want to see the party embrace the so-called Leap manifesto — a policy blueprint that calls for dramatic changes, including an end to Canada’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Avi Lewis, one of the architects of the manifesto, has joined forces with former deputy leader Libby Davies and former Toronto MP Craig Scott to push the party to debate to policy questions contained in the document.
Discussions surrounding the manifesto could also prove awkward for Alberta NDP members who have tried to carefully navigate the prickly conversation around pipelines and climate change.
In a recent interview, Lewis said NDP Premier Rachel Notley often speaks about climate change and pipelines in the same breath in an attempt to give the province credibility as it continues to fight to get its oilsands bitumen to tidewater.
Science clearly indicates that governments cannot continue to grow their economies based on the fossil-fuel economy if they want to tackle climate change, he said.