In reviewing Mulcair’s future NDP also needs a ‘rethink’

Dene Moore
·National Affairs Contributor

[PHOTO COURTESY: The Canadian Press]

Even before final election counts were in, an anonymous petition was launched online demanding the resignation of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

In nearly three months, the petition has fallen short of the extremely low bar it set of 200 signatures.

And that, for the third-party NDP, is the problem. There is, undeniably, some dissention in the ranks over Mulcair’s campaign performance. That undercurrent rose to the surface last week when high-profile Ontario New Democrat Cheri DiNovo publicly called for his resignation.

But is it fair to blame Mulcair for the “loss” that is the party’s second-best electoral performance ever? And is it enough to push the New Democrat chief, since he’s made it clear he won’t jump?

“I don’t really see what that would solve,” Alex Marland, a professor of political science at Memorial University, says of a new party leader. “I’m not taking a position on Mr. Mulcair. I just mean that I think, if anything, that just adds to the instability.”

The party needs a “rethink,” not just a new leader, Marland tells Yahoo Canada News.

“There are fundamental successes about the NDP that a lot of people can be pleased with but the problem is that, in many ways, the brand of the NDP is as a third-party status. It’s not a front-runner party and in some ways that’s why things happened the way they did.”

He believes that a lot of it is the fundamental lack of confidence many Canadians have in the NDP brand, right down to the name.

“It’s too easy to say they need a new leader. I think the real question is what do we do as a party to renew ourselves,” Marland says.

“Right now I think many of us aren’t clear are they a left-wing party? Are they a centrist party? Are they something in between?”

Party members will have a chance to have this discussion — and judge Mulcair — at a party convention in Edmonton in April, when he will face an automatic leadership review under party rules.

In 2013, more than 92 per cent of party members voiced support. This time around, the result is anyone’s guess.

Under party rules, if more than 50 per cent of delegates vote in favour of a leadership race, one must be held within a year. In reality, the threshold can be much lower.

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein stepped down after receiving 55 per cent support in a leadership review; former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark called a leadership convention in 1983 with almost 70 per cent support. He lost the ensuing leadership race.

There have been no shortage of fingers pointing at no shortage of targets for blame since Oct. 19.

Party president Rebecca Blaikie is in the midst of a sweeping debrief of the campaign, including meetings with campaign workers, winning and losing candidates and party brass. Nearly 23,000 party members have returned surveys sent out after election night.

But the review is focused on the future, not on the past, says NDP spokeswoman Karine Fortin.

“No campaign is the same,” Fortin tells Yahoo Canada News. “You can analyze for a long time what went wrong in this campaign. It won’t give the recipe to win the next one.”

Scott Reid, a political analyst and founder of Feschuk.Reid, and one-time director of communications for former prime minister Paul Martin, says at least a discussion is taking place within the NDP.

In the aftermath of the election, the party began “circling the wagons” around Mulcair and shutting down debate.

“That just struck me as odd. After such a thorough beating, taking stock just seemed to make sense,” Reid says.

But the discussion has persisted.

“Whereas at first it seemed like a verboten topic, now it seems like it’s a much more open and hotly debated and contested subject,” he says.

There were strategic errors in the campaign but “I think it would be a waste of time for the party to spend much energy debating why they lost the election. I think you can’t resolve those issues,” Reid says.

“I think the fundamental discussion they need to have is what do they want to be? Who is the NDP?”

It’s no longer the voice of organized labour and not yet the voice of environmental policy.

“So what is it about?” Reid asks. “Until you answer that question, you can’t very thoughtfully answer the question of who is the right person to lead.”