All eyes on Thomas Mulcair, but does he stand a chance?

Photo credit; Justin Ling

On Thursday Thomas Mulcair convened roughly 200 supporters, 30 members of parliament and a grumpy mass of journalists for a “special announcement.”

Despite his coy foreplay over the past several weeks, I think there was a collective sigh of relief in the room when he finally announced he was running for leader.

Flanked by a gaggle of predominately Quebec MPs, Mulcair proclaimed that it’s time to look forward, not back, yet still continue working on Jack Layton’s vision for the country.

Or as evil space alien Kang once put it on The Simpsons, “we must move forward, not backward. Upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”

Lorne Nystrom 2.0?

For a candidate fixated on the future, Mulcair brandished the moderate, business-friendly legacies of former prairie Dipper premiers Gary Doer and Lorne Calvert like a sword at a butter knife fight.

But surrounding himself with centrists like Doer and Calvert might be a gamble for Mulcair. Jack Layton’s NDP can get defensive when their social-democratic roots come into question. Layton’s predecessor pushed the party to the right and caused sharp divisions as a result.

Mulcair also picked up a curious endorsement from Lorne Nystrom. The nine-times-elected, thrice-defeated MP from Saskatchewan was once seen as the anointed one in the NDP’s line of succession. In the 1995 leadership race, Nystrom was cruising to victory, well ahead of the openly gay, notably left-wing Svend Robinson and the ‘also ran’ candidate Alexa McDonough.

On the floor of the convention Robinson won the first ballot, but had his fortunes reversed when Nystrom employed a bit of realpolitik and endorsed second-place McDonough – electing her as leader.

Nystrom and Mulcair are starting to bear a striking resemblance to one another. Nystrom, like Mulcair, was vaulted to the front because of a regional caucus and a plea for a pair of steady, moderate hands at the wheel.

The Youth Vote

Mulcair picked up endorsements from two of the youngest New Democrats in the House, bolstering his message of looking to the future.

Pierre-Luc Dusseault and Matthew Dubé, 20 and 23 respectively, stood on stage with the Outremont MP. The emcees of the event were also the the co-chairs of the youth wing of the Quebec NDP. Cornering that youth vote would definitely help Mulcair.

And he might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that pesky Niki Ashton.

Ashton is one of the MPs said to be mulling over a run at the leadership. In 2005, Ashton knocked off sitting MP Bev Desjarlais for the NDP nomination in the riding of Churchill due to Desjarlais’ opposition to same-sex marriage. Ashton picked up the seat in 2008, immediately picking up three critics roles including youth and, later, post-secondary education.

Ashton hasn’t said anything since originally signalling she was interested.

Ontarian MP Wayne Marston, who was at Thursday’s announcement to endorse Mulcair, told me that he’s spoken with Ashton, and says he’s “reasonably sure” that Ashton will run. On Toronto MP Peggy Nash, however, he’s “not so sure.”

Can Mulcair really build outside Quebec?

If we actually look at the NDP membership numbers, (thanks, PunditsGuide!) we can see that Mulcair has his work cut out for him.

Nathan Cullen is the lone candidate in British Colombia, which boasts about 30,000 members. Paul Dewar, and possibly Peggy Nash, have 20,000 members in Ontario to fight over. Ashton, assuming she runs, would likely do well with the roughly 30,000 members in the prairies. The other 5,000 members are spread across Atlantic Canada and Quebec. With Robert Chisholm, former Nova Scotia NDP leader, strongly considering a run, he would likely take the lion’s share of the Atlantic’s membership. Brian Topp will likely do well in all those areas.

Mulcair certainly hasn’t proved his national appeal. He has, so far, picked up the endorsements of defeated a MP and leadership candidate from the West, three Ontario MPs and Dominic Cardy, the leader of the seat-less New Brunswick NDP.

So where does Mulcair plan on finding these votes? Short of buying everyone in British Colombia a bottle of whisky, he doesn’t have a lot of options.

Unless he plans to increase Quebec’s membership ten-fold or picks up an endorsement from someone currently in the race, I think rumours of his demise have been greatly under-exaggerated.

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Categories: NDP Leadership Race

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