By this time next week, the NDP could be looking for a new leader.
Tom Mulcair will face a leadership review at the federal party’s convention in Edmonton this weekend, and there have been growing hints that neither he, nor the NDP’s top organizers, will be satisfied with less than 70 per cent support among the 1,500 expected delegates. (The magic number spelled out in the NDP’s constitution is 50 per cent plus one, but that is seen as an extremely low bar.)
Mulcair remained leader following the NDP’s third-place finish in the Oct. 19, 2015 federal election, saying he was committed to rebuilding the party brand.
That brand remains firmly linked to Mulcair’s personal one, however, which could pose a problem given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trounced him in the campaign and is still riding a wave of popular support.
Here’s a primer on what we know, and what may be to come, as Mulcair faces the music.
What will happen at the convention?
This convention is about much more than just reviewing Mulcair’s leadership, although that has been the central focus in the weeks leading up to the event. The party has released the list of resolutions brought forward by riding associations from across the country, at least some of which will be voted on. The resolutions, which touch on everything from corporate taxes to public transit, will be handled in chunks by seven main panels over the weekend.
Mulcair, meanwhile, is expected to give a closing speech to the party faithful and will likely be working the convention floor to shore up support. Informal meetings and discussions could be key to helping him hang on to his job, said Robin Sears, the party’s former national director who now works at the Earnscliffe consulting group.
“His work on the floor and in the hotel corridors etc, between now and (the speech) will be very important,” Sears predicted.
So what are Mulcair’s chances?
That’s hard to predict, although political pundits have been speculating for months that Mulcair won’t be able to clear the seemingly arbitrary 70-per-cent support target (initially floated by the party’s outgoing national president, Rebecca Blaikie) and hang on to his job.
Support from within his own caucus has not been overwhelming, and there has been outright opposition to him remaining from at least one major union leader. Hassan Yussuff of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents over three million Canadian workers, told the Globe and Mail earlier this week that Mulcair has lost his confidence and does not deserve another term.
Meanwhile, in Mulcair’s home province of Quebec, a group of 37 New Democrat activists, including three defeated MPs, is also calling for new direction.
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Is there any good news for Mulcair?
Yes, in fact. A handful of current NDP MPs, including the well-liked Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, have come out in support of their leader. Ken Neumann, the national director of the United Steelworkers union, has also said he believes Mulcair should stay. Four other union leaders have backed him up.
Sears said it will probably break down to a third of delegates at the convention firmly on Mulcair’s side, a third against him, and a third “undecided, but willing to be persuaded.”
“It means you’ve got a lot of potential to get into the high 60s, or even above 70 [per cent support],” Sears said.
But the biggest element in Mulcair’s favour, he noted, is the “morning-after problem.”
In other words, if Mulcair is out, then who’s in? The absence of a clear heir apparent (or several of them) to the NDP’s top job could convince some members to stick with their current leader, rather than risk a messy race that would be run at the same time as the Conservative one already underway.
“The absence of a long line to the left of people clamouring for the job, or who seem to be capable of doing it, is certainly an asset for Mr. Mulcair,” Sears noted.
“I think that’s certainly a factor that will stay people’s judgments, even if they’re feeling quite grumpy.”
With files from Andrew Russell and the Canadian Press.