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NDP's Establishment outfoxes itself

Topp campaign errors show smart money is on the outsiders.

Dateline: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

by Ish Theilheimer

The NDP doesn't like to admit it, but it has an establishment of wizened, veteran smart people. Sometimes they're too smart for their own good, which appears to be the case with Brian Topp's candidacy.

Topp is bilingual, savvy, experienced and decent, an outstanding person to have working for the NDP or any party. Rushing forward with his candidacy for the leadership in order to prevent the ascent of Thomas Mulcair, however, was neither well advised nor orchestrated.

Premature announcements have rankled many — not smart in a popularity contest. Someone on his team leaked a report of his candidacy last August, on the day Jack Layton died, which was in terribly bad taste. That and the announcement of his candidacy less than a month later, in the company of NDP icon Ed Broadbent (who went over the proverbial Topp last week with his harsh public criticisms of Mulcair) all appeared intended to preempt other candidates and, specifically, Muclair.

 

We are mystified that the anti-Mulcair Establishment did not recruit an actual elected politician to to do its bidding.

So what is the beef with Mulcair? His adversaries paint him publicly as a Blairite, willing to compromise the soul of his party for power. His campaign pronouncements don't really suggest this, although he has criticized traditional NDP rhetoric — for which he has been widely and theatrically scorned. His critics' outrage seems a bit much, however, because Mulcair just hasn't proposed radical policy changes.

Apparently, the real problem with Mulcair is personal. No one will say anything on record, but anonymous sources suggest he's pushy, vindictive, prone to tantrums, etc. There's only one problem with all this. The man is a proven winner, and a lot of people think defeating Harper is more important than personal issues. And actually, one of the reasons Mulcair is a winner is that he's tough. For the record, many other politicians and their staff aren't actually that nice either.

This brings us back to the Topp campaign. We are mystified that the anti-Mulcair Establishment did not recruit an actual elected politician to to do its bidding. The totally capable, trilingual, respected and likable Peggy Nash (another tough, proven winner) would have been an obvious choice, and failure to recruit her is a real slight to her.

It's also something of a slight to NDP members to think they'd want to elect someone without a seat at such a critical time. True, as Topp has claimed, neither Jack Layton nor Alexa McDonough was an MP when they were elected to lead, but the circumstances were radically different. And both had proven their electability at other levels, whereas Topp has not.

Paul Dewar, despite linguistic challenges, could have been asked. Smart, good-looking, popular and son of a successful politician, he would have been a more logical choice. His valiant efforts to get up to speed in French could have been played as a positive, like Jack's cane. Slighting him was not smart.

Instead, these three Party veterans (Topp, Nash and Dewar) are left to duke it out and thereby commit the dreaded sin of splitting the (anti-Mulcair) vote. How does this help their cause?

Another thing that doesn't look smart in retrospect was the so-called Topp rule the party adopted, which stripped leadership candidates of their Opposition critic portfolios during the leadership race (which Mulcair successfully lobbied to make a six-month marathon). Bob Rae and the limping Liberals benefited from the frequent opportunities to steal the spotlight. Not smart.

Perhaps some of the anti-Mulcair forces will forge some kind of alliance between now and the vote on Saturday, but such timing would not be especially smart either. In a one-member-one-vote leadership selection, most votes are cast in advance by mail, with only a few thousand up for grabs on the day of the vote — Saturday. If an alliance is forged this week, there just wouldn't be that many votes left to swing.

The smartest campaign of all in this leadership race may have been Nathan Cullen's. He capitalized brilliantly on the kind of post-political sentiment that helped Barack Obama get elected. Cullen's use of online tools such as social media has been outstanding, and he recruited the support of anti-Harper online activist groups. Fundraising numbers prove that he and Mulcair are connecting and building momentum in ways none of the others can claim. Cullen is another winner — having got himself elected repeatedly in Conservative country — and he could surprise everyone when the votes are counted.

We estimate the successful candidate will need at least 30 percent on the first ballot, with the expectation of picking up another five percent on each succeeding ballot as lower-ranking candidates fall away and second choices are counted. It could be that Cullen's fresh style and ideas — principally that of forging strategic alliances with Liberals — will propel him to the 30-percent-plus launchpad, and that with his affability, he we will garner enough second-place votes to surpass the more polarizing Mulcair.

The straight goods is that the smarty pantses have blown it this time, and the smart money is on the anti-Establishment contenders Cullen and Mulcair.

Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.

eMail: ish@straightgoods.com  


Comments
FromMessagePosted
Anita Romaniuk I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I voted for Thomas Mulcair first and Nathan Cullen second. If Mulcair was that hard to get along with, why ... View > 22-Mar-12
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