Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mysteries abound in NDP leadership race

Party members, not insiders, will make ultimate choice.

By Ish Theilheimer 
October 17, 2011
In the old TV game show, Let's Make a Deal, contestants had to guess what delights were hidden behind the mysterious doors Number One, Two and Three. The federal NDP leadership race is the most interesting in decades, both because of the real prospect of power and a plethora of interested talent. And it appears to be that sort of guessing game.

Every candidate and potential candidate has questions to answer, and each New Democrat voting has some real work to do to unravel the mysteries surrounding them, which is why Straight Goods News has been running profiles on the candidates, potential candidates and other leaders within the Party.

This race is especially interesting because it is a vote of party members, 
not just the activists and political junkies who attend conventions.

This week we present Toronto MP Peggy Nash. Long admired within the NDP and labour circles for her gutsy and conciliatory leadership, she's known for taking stands and bringing people together. She says in her interview, done two weeks ago, that there's still lots of time. But that time is growing shorter.

Peter Julian, whom we presented two weeks ago, would have seemed a great choice. He's bilingual, talented, experienced in Quebec and a veteran campaigner around many of the most prominent political issues of globalization and corporate dominance. Apparently, after casting around, he couldn't recruit the all-important party organizers necessary to a successful leadership campaign, large numbers of them being already committed.

Why the party's environment critic Megan Leslie of Halifax isn't running with the support of its establishment is a bit of a mystery. She was voted a top up-and-comer in the last Parliament for good reason. She's razor-sharp in both official languages, young, politically savvy and photogenic. She would seem a natural for a party trying to appeal to a broader constituency.

Paul Dewar is in the race. So why can't the popular, experienced, and articulate Ottawa MP find any backers from within Caucus to support him? With his considerable assets, he may be able to come up the middle in a showdown between front-runners. To do so, he'll need to surprise NDPers with some hidden strengths.

Romeo Saganash will, we predict, be the show stealer of the campaign. Though practically unknown outside Quebec, he's an impressive individual with charisma, talent, political experience to spare. He has a heroic life story as a residential school survivor and becoming a super-achiever despite being raised in harsh circumstances. His story is sure to inspire New Democrats as they cast their ballots.

Also in the race is the impressive northern BC MP Nathan Cullen. Although seen as having outside chances, he's an impressive individual with a strong record in Parliament. Straight Goods News will be interviewing him soon.

Former Nova Scotia NDP leader Robert Chisolm is also frequently mentioned as a possible candidate.

In the week ahead, SGN will be talking to the two presumed front-runners, both of whom present some real mysteries. Brian Topp may be the greatest of the mysteries, because Canadians just don't know him. As a back-room person, his job has been to stay out of the limelight and to get others elected or keep them in office. Who is he, and why, after the success he's enjoyed working for others, with government a real possibility for the right leader, does he want to become front-man himself rather than working to riding a winner from his party's talented stable?

Perhaps Tom Mulcair has the most to reveal. Will the former Liberal present a vision compelling enough to win the support of party members well-known for their ideological purity? He has more swagger than all the other candidates put together — but, strangely, this could work against him if the issue becomes his personality. Is he hard to work with, as some imply? Does he have a new vision that can galvanize the race?

Much will be revealed in the weeks and months to come. We'll do our best to help you sort it out. This race is especially interesting because it is a vote of party members, not just the activists and political junkies who attend conventions. The winning candidate will be the one who attracts votes from a majority of regular party members. (Or recruits them — Alison Redford won the Alberta Conservative leadership by recruiting new members from other parties.)

Big-name endorsements and high-pressure organizers won't have that much influence in a general membership vote. NDPers will elect someone who comes out from behind his or her mystery door and grabs their hearts and minds.

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

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