OTTAWA – Two online advocacy organizations are giving a potentially big boost to Nathan Cullen’s underdog campaign to become federal NDP leader.
Avaaz and Leadnow.ca are promoting more co-operation among Canada’s “progressive” political forces to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
And they’re urging their members – almost 700,000 strong – to join federal opposition parties in a bid to influence their agendas, including their choice of leader.
Both have launched massive email campaigns over the last week, reminding their members that they must join the NDP by midnight Saturday to be eligible to vote for that party’s next leader.
Since Cullen is the only one of seven NDP leadership hopefuls to fully embrace the idea of co-operation with rival parties, he stands to be the primary beneficiary of the online campaigns.
Cullen has proposed holding joint nomination meetings with Liberals and Greens in Tory-held ridings as the best way to ensure defeat of Harper’s Conservatives in the next election.
The idea has been flatly rejected by rival candidates and greeted coolly by NDP rank and file. But the online groups represent an enormous potential pool of new support for Cullen.
Youth-led Leadnow.ca boasts a membership of 80,000 – roughly the same as the NDP’s membership at the start of the seven-month leadership campaign. Avaaz has more than 13 million members worldwide, 604,547 of them in Canada.
“These two groups coming on board is huge for us,” Cullen, a British Columbia MP, said in an interview.
“They have networks that go far, far beyond normal party structures. … The sheer number, that’s absolutely staggering.”
Before launching their campaigns, both groups polled their members and say they found overwhelming support (95 per cent) for the notion of co-operation among progressive political forces.
In less than a week, Leadnow.ca has amassed more than 13,000 signatures on an online petition that calls on parties to co-operate prior to the next election “to elect a government that better represents a majority of Canadians.”
The petition, which includes links to join various opposition parties, also calls on parties to work together after the 2015 election to introduce electoral reform that would permanently ensure no party can win a majority with 40 per cent or less of the popular vote.
By mid-afternoon Friday, Leadnow.ca’s Jamie Biggar said almost 5,000 had clicked on the link to join the NDP, about 1,500 had clicked to join the Liberals and another 1,500 to join the Greens.
Biggar said Leadnow.ca will not endorse any candidate in the NDP contest. Its objective is to show all contenders that there’s an appetite for co-operation and to perhaps compel some of Cullen’s rivals to come up with their own ideas on that score.
Leadnow.ca will issue a report card on each candidate before the March 23-24 leadership convention.
“Our goal is to raise the bar on this issue for all the candidates, by showing really specifically that there are thousands of Canadians who support this issue and are willing to get involved in parties … to make co-operation for electoral reform happen,” Biggar said in an interview.
If other contenders don’t rise to that challenge, he acknowledged Cullen stands to benefit the most.
“If Nathan is still the only pro-co-operation candidate, it’ll definitely help him the most.”
Avaaz sent out an email blast to its members Thursday, which also included links to join the various parties, including the Conservatives. The email argued that “most of us, including progressive conservatives, aren’t represented by Harper’s right-wing policies.”
“If we all become members of parties now, we can vote as a bloc for party heads who will put the public interest first by uniting to represent the majority of Canadians right now in Parliament and in our next election.”
The number of Avaaz members who have clicked to join a party was not immediately available.
Avaaz co-founder Ricken Patel said the timing of the email blast was deliberate, given that New Democrats are currently engaged in a leadership contest and Liberals are slated to follow with a leadership vote in the spring of 2013.
“We felt it was important for Canadians to join at this crucial time of shaping the leadership of these parties and the kind of agenda (they’ll adopt),” he said.
“People power is reshaping politics across the planet and leaders that recognize that and tap into that by serving people gain from that. It’s smart politics now.”
Similar social media campaigns are credited with helping to vault Barack Obama into the U.S. presidency and Naheed Nenshi into the mayor’s chair in Calgary.
Cullen was initially perceived as an also-ran contender and his proposal for joint nomination contests as an anchor preventing his campaign from taking off. However, he has impressed many New Democrats with his relaxed, witty performances in all-candidates debates and is now widely believed to be picking up momentum.
Two internal polls conducted for rival contenders Thomas Mulcair and Paul Dewar, have put Mulcair ahead and a four-way fight for second among Peggy Nash, Dewar, Brian Topp and Cullen.
Cullen said he senses that resistance to joint nominations is “softening a bit.” The Avaaz and Leadnow.ca online campaigns may further persuade NDP militants that there’s a market for the idea.
“What they’re endorsing is an idea and it’s showing other candidates in this race and my party and other parties that there’s a population out there that wants to see something done.”