Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mulcair won. What next for the NDP?

Leadership contests are, by their nature, extremely divisive contests. They force parties to highlight their own divisions and in the process, provide ammunition to other political parties that they can save for elections.

The NDP is conscious of that and for the most part, the leadership convention that just elected Thomas Mulcair with over 57% of the vote was a restrained process. The one candidate who faced the harshest criticism from rivals was the one who emerged victorious.

So the first order of business under such circumstances is always to consolidate the victory. The fact that it took four ballots for Mulcair to win means that he will want to shore up support. That in turn means that there will be no drastic changes in the short term. To hammer home that point, Mulcair, in his first major interview as NDP leader, told the CBC's Peter Mansbridge that he will retain Vancouver East MP Libby Davies as Deputy Leader.

The relations between Davies and Mulcair could be described as toxic. Many sources indicate the rotund Health Critic Davies despises Mulcair as a "neo-liberal" Blairite, while the Outremont MP is contemptuous of Davies, whom he considers an unintelligent, radical fanatic that is a liability to the party's ability to reach beyond its base. Davies launched vicious proxy attacks against Mulcair  through rabble.ca. That radical website is published by Davies' same-sex spouse, Kim Elliott. Mulcair is keenly aware of the rabble/Davies connection and he was the only one of the NDP leadership candidates who refused to be interviewed by that neo-Marxist online outlet.

Once Mulcair's grasp on the party tightens, look forward to Davies being consigned to the back benches within two years. The decline will be gradual, with her first being shifted out of the Deputy Leader and Health Critic positions to a lesser portfolio. Depending on her ability to refrain from a major blunder, a degree of restraint that Davies has seldom exercised for long, she may hold on to a job as Critic of a minor Ministry., But just as likely, once Davies, who frequently behaves like a petulant child in public, contradicts and criticizes the new leader, she'll be roosting up in the Opposition bleachers.

The interesting developments will be where people like Nathan Cullen end up. His surprising 3rd place performance in the leadership race means that he has party support, but despite Cullen's expressed desire to move the party to the centre, his policies are even further to the left of Jack Layton's, suggesting the bald man from British Columbia is not someone to be trusted.

The next general election isn't likely to be before late 2015, so in that time, the NDP caucus who can act like centrists and behave intelligently will be moved closer to the top. Look for more of a say from the Quebec caucus, who though fresh now, will under Mulcair's tutelage show more gravitas and leadership. Whether the NDP and its new leader have the talent and skill to give Canadians confidence in their ability to govern depends largely on whether the party purges the Davies faction and shows it is finally being run by grown-ups.

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