Thursday, March 01, 2012

Leadership 2012 - Preliminary Endorsement

I've run through a high-level analysis of the NDP's leadership candidates this week knowing that paper ballots are being mailed out, that online voting starts today, and that the leadership candidates will soon be racing to lock in as many votes as possible (with little focus on the down-ballot impacts on other candidates which may ultimately decide the campaign). And so there's not a moment to lose as I implore NDP members to...

1. Be Patient

Yes, the voting window is opening. But there's still plenty of time for additional developments in the race: the positioning of the candidates ranked 2nd through 5th still seems to be in flux, and there's plenty of reason to reserve judgment until we have as much information as possible as to exactly what our options are. (As a particularly interesting possibility, Alice notes that Romeo Saganash's name will be on the first ballot - making for a useful parking spot for any concerted effort at an outcome such as "Cullen minus joint nominations".)

Otherwise, the danger is that a reasonable explanation as to Thomas Mulcair's plans for the party or a compromise as to Nathan Cullen's joint nomination pitch might come too late, as enough votes are already locked in to push the outcome in another direction. Which is why I'll be waiting until convention to vote - and encouraging readers to do the same.

2. If You Must Vote Now...

(a) Rank Brian Topp 1st


I've come to the conclusion that Topp is the best of the candidates as matters stand now based on his obvious strengths in policy command and organizational acumen, as well as the progress he's made in his public presentation.

But equally importantly, even if he's indeed at the bottom of the second tier for the moment, a candidate who's written the book on how to make deals under fire looks like the best option to use his voting bloc to secure the best possible compromise outcome at the leadership convention. So if I had to vote today, it would be Topp leading the way.

(b) Rank Nathan Cullen over Thomas Mulcair

My two preferred outcomes actually involve one of these candidates winning after what would hopefully be considered a palatable change in course. But while there's no apparent prospect that Cullen will win an easy early-ballot victory, there's a real possibility that Mulcair might get exactly the sweeping mandate he's requesting rather than having to answer the concerns of other camps. And a stronger showing for Cullen will again improve the leverage of other candidates to secure compromises.

(c) Rank Paul Dewar over Peggy Nash

Finally, among the candidates perceived as compromise leaders (as distinct from strong candidates who may need to compromise on their mandate expectations), the choice comes down to a candidate whose weakness (Dewar's French) can be fixed, against one whose major flaw (Nash's difficulties under pressure) won't likely improve with time. And so I'll recommend putting Dewar ahead in the head-to-head matchup.

Again, though, my immediate preference is for as many members as possible to reserve enough judgment to be able to influence what the candidates see fit to offer as the campaign draws to a close.

34 comments:

  1. Dan Tan10:38 AM

    IMO, no one should attempt to "game" the vote...as Greg seems to be suggesting.

    The voting process alone presents way too many variables. If most people are voting BEFORE the convention...it's pretty dangerous to suggest ranking Brian Topp #1. Greg says the intention is to extract concessions from the true #1's (Mulcair & Cullen)...but given the heavy pre-vote...we could end up with Brian Topp as actual leader.

    Gaming the vote requires knowledge about the NDP membership that, frankly, no one in their right mind can claim to have.

    The media have no clue about this party. If they aren't Liberal or Conservative partisans themselves...they're just plain lazy. I haven't seen ONE exploration of members views by ANY journalist. Like not even a post-debate roundup of the audience. And yet you have these people declaring so-and-so "front-runners" or "back-of-the-pack"...based on nothing but their personal opinions.

    The polls have no clue about this party. At first, they didn't even poll the membership...they polled Canadians. When they started polling the membership, the sample sizes were so small it made them a joke. And when Dewar managed to get a decent sample size, it was rendered irrelevant when thousands of new members flooded into the party.

    To be fair, not even NDP members themselves have a clue about their peers. And I'm not even talking about the thousands of new ones. Though the party's policies are socially-oriented, the members themselves are pretty individualistic. The party's policies on foreign-policy & the economy are so unorthodox, it takes alot of individual research and soul-searching to get "activist" about this stuff. These aren't the type of people who take cues from pundits & polls...becuase if they did, the NDP would have folded long ago.

    Under these circumstances, the best course of action is to vote personally...not strategically.

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  2. Greg Fingas12:09 PM

    I'll note that I'd have been much more skeptical about putting Topp first as a matter of strategy if he didn't also rank at the top of my list of current preferences. But I do think there's some need to discuss - both at the member level and among the candidates - how to achieve better results than might seem to be available based on the contenders' current stances. And indeed that's exactly why my first choice is to hold off on voting until those possibilities materialize (or not).

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  3. Purple Library Guy1:04 PM

    I have some sympathy for this ranking.  I too would put Topp as my number one at this point.  And I must say, when he first stepped into the race, that is not what I was expecting I would say.
    My position is this:  I'm a leftist.  And in terms of pragmatism, it's long been my position that while talking about proletarians and the means of production and other jargon is politically foolish, the actual substance of fairly strong populist left-wing policies can be quite popular simply because they actually help people, and the job of progressive politicians should not be to move to the centre but to pull the centre towards where they are.  That's the basis of the hard right's success (well, that and money).  The right and the media will pillory any policies with genuine substance that will really help the poor and middle class, let alone hurt the rich, but they'll go after a perceived left-wing party anyway, as long as the faintest shred of substance remains.  So my ideal would be a fairly left, but populist leader, who rather than backing down when challenged on left-ish populist policies, goes on the attack.

    When it comes to Topp, I figured, he's a backroom boy, he doesn't have an ideology and if he does, he won't be interested in defending it.  I thought he would have a strong machine but be the most centrist and bland in the race.  Instead Mulcair's the most centrist, and Nash and Dewar are the most bland.  Topp has actually had to my mind the closest thing to a solid left-ish economic/taxation policy among the bunch, and has come out the strongest for NDP values.  I can't go with Cullen's Liberal-co-operation idea.  I'm leery of Dewar's problem with French.  I don't like Mulcair's economics or his position on imperialism.  Ashton's not ready, Singh isn't serious and I disagree with his economics.  Nash is possible, but I'm iffy about her electability; she hasn't impressed me that much as a politician, or near as I can tell made up for that with a stronger platform than anyone else.  Still, she ends up high on my list.  By taking a fairly solid progressive stance, Topp has almost by default ended up my #1 pick.

    I'd rank Cullen over Mulcair, probably, if only because the whole Liberal-co-operation thing seems unlikely to materialize for real even if he becomes leader.  Not so sure about Dewar over Nash.  And I'd rank Dewar and Nash over Cullen and Mulcair, because neither Dewar nor Nash have big red flags over any of their actual politics for me.

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  4. Dan Tan2:04 PM

    Greg,

    There needs to be a post-leadership mechanism that allows members to "correct" the flaws of any leader who emerges. We're supposed to be choosing the best salesman for our platform...and it's a job requirement that the salesman fears his employer...not the other way round.

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  5. John Donohue3:21 PM

    You gotta be kidding Topp #1....NO way in Hell...he's the worst most phoney candidate out there...are you stupid, wnough to actually fall for that sh*t?  The guys sent be 4 emails, and robo called me twice...

    1) Cullen....he actually is the best candidate

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  6. John Donohue3:22 PM

    <span>You gotta be kidding Topp #1....NO way in Hell...he's the worst most phoney candidate out there...are you stupid, enough to actually fall for that sh*t?  Topp sent be 4 emails, and robo called me twice, as ed broadbent...sleezy..
     
    1) Cullen....he actually is the best candidate</span>

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  7. Purple Library Guy3:52 PM

    I'm getting emails from all of them, including Cullen, so I'm not sure what that proves.

    Cullen's emphasized the importance of "co-operating with other  progressive, federalist parties" (by which he meant the Liberals, mostly).  Only problem:  The Liberals aren't a progressive party.  Sorry, but they aren't.  Cullen's a nice fellow, doubtless charismatic (that's never had as much impact on me as it seems to on most people) and to the extent he has policies they seem OK.  But I can't go for his major, central, constantly emphasized election plank.  For me, totally disagreeing with someone matters when electing a political leader--I know that may seem quaint.

    Interestingly, the emails I get from everyone else is them saying how marvellous they are.  The Dewar one seemed particularly "Gosh, I'm the awesomest thing since sliced bread and there is nothing I need to learn because I know it all already".  The ones about Topp are from other people saying how marvellous he is (including Broadbent; don't see just what's wrong with that).  Not sure what that shows either--obviously it's his campaign orchestrating them--but it's an interesting difference in style.

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  8. Dan Tan4:50 PM

    Cullen is on Power & Politics right now. First time I've seen him discuss defense & economic issues on TV.

    I actually thought he'd stumble on these issues...but he's just as deadly on them as he is on the environment & elections.

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  9. Trefor5:01 PM

    Can you elaborate on the "peggy nash's difficulties under pressure"? I have thought she has performed betwee neutral and at the top of the pack in various debates and (as a parkdale-highpark) setting thought she performed well in debates against prominent Liberal Gerard Kennedy. Is there some classic examples of interviews or something that I am missing?

    Nonetheless, I tend to agree with your ranking with the exception of nash over dewar. I did not originally plan to put Topp as number 1, but I am starting to lean that way. 

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  10. jurist5:02 PM

    No argument there - I'd like just to get out in front of a few of the more glaring concerns rather than trying to talk about how a new leader might improve at a point when the only formal way to change anything is a leadership review vote.

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  11. Trefor5:04 PM

    I should add, that I think the number of difficult for Nash is also one of her strengths: she is perceived to be the union candidate. That will be attack, visciously by harper, and it is now only a small minority of Canadians who are members of unions. So whatever NDP members may think of unions, this is a liability for her. 

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  12. jurist5:08 PM

    I'd be a bit more equivocal in describing Mulcair. It seems to me a mostly open question whether he's challenging the NDP to change its values or merely the language it uses to describe them - and while I'd love to see what he can do on the latter front, I'd think the former is a flawed plan on a number of levels.

    That said, I can certainly see Mulcair as leader with Topp as top strategist (with something close to an equal role in setting the party's direction) and MP-in-the-making as a positive outcome - though it'll be worth seeing whether the two are willing to work toward that possibility after what's sometimes been a contentious campaign.

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  13. jurist5:13 PM

    Interesting observation, though I tend to think that goes to Topp's unique combination of what's still a relatively low personal profile and the relative popularity of some of his supporters. And frankly it's not a great sign if at this stage of the race he still figures voters are more likely to listen to an appeal from Broadbent or Romanow than one that he delivers personally.

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  14. jurist5:18 PM

    I'd see Nash's union connections as a major plus in the leadership campaign, and at worst a wash overall: for all the Cons' demonizing unions still aren't seen any more negatively than corporations, so a contrast between parties associated with each isn't a terrible outcome.

    As I described in her candidate analysis, though, I think she's been very weak on her feet at times. She has a great grasp of some policy areas, but hasn't shown the political instincts to avoid serious trouble when speaking off the cuff in areas outside that comfort zone - and that strikes me as a recipe for disaster given the range of issues a leader of the opposition will need to be able to address at a moment's notice.

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  15. Dan Tan5:25 PM

    Brian Topp has already shown us how one reacts to being called "the union candidate"...namely, embrace, counter-attack, & talk about the economy. The same tactic works for any Conservative candidate who's accused of being "the oil candidate" or "the 1% candidate".

    The key is confidence. If you are the least bit hesitant or wishy-washy about your associations, the audience will interpret that as signs of a guilty conscience. If you are proud of your associations, the audience will take comfort that you are not hiding anything.

    The only reason such an accusation would be a problem for Nash is because she's a very plain-spoken communicator. While she may believe things, she doesn't *sound* very confident or proud about the things she believes.

    Someone should have her watch BraveHeart (Freedom!) or Spartacus Blood & Sand (We kill them all!). Leaders need to be alphas who inspire their audiences. Peggy is merely a kind & considerate person...ideal for a high-level cabinet position where nuance isn't a handicap.

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  16. Dan Tan5:36 PM

    Greg,

    You should read Mulcair's economic document (that I previously linked to). It's no different than your morning read of "Conscience Of A Liberal". <span>
    </span>

    If the NDP's "values" are primarily economic...I don't know how anyone can claim Mulcair wishes to alter them.

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  17. http://janfromthebruce.blogspot.com/10:14 PM

    I sure hope that Mulcair and Topp can work together afterwards - Jack's key strategist and confident - I want to keep on that path Greg!

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  18. Anonymous3:46 AM

    yea, but two robo calls c'mon he knows I signed up under Cullen's site....Pushy...

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  19. John Donohue4:07 AM

    Yea Cullen is the best, he's Jack 2.0...Check out his economic plan on his website it's brilliant >>>especially when compared to Brian Topp's...BTW Purple library guy you know if the Liberals weren't progresssive we would have never got medicare right?...NDP and Liberal cooperation is the result on that...I'm not a big fan of the Liberals either...but I'll choose them over the conservatives any day of the week...besides it's not a merger it's a one time cooperation between greens, NDP, and Liberals to oust Harper...after that we can go back to normal. You have to pick your poison who do you like more liberals or Cons?...most NDPers would say Liberals so get on with the cooperation...vote Cullen.

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  20. John Donohue4:12 AM

    Topp's true colours showed when Dewar released a poll awhile back that had him in 5th place...he started attacking Mulcair, etc...Many also think the site knowmulcair.ca was posted by Topp's campaign. I'm glad he did post it because there a lot of interesting things about Mulcair on it, but still it's anti NDP..If he was responsible for it (which would seem likely since he attacked Mulcair on a similar issue in one of the debates)

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  21. jurist7:41 AM

    I hope most readers will know better than to take the "many also think" standard of evidence seriously when it comes to allegations like that. Topp has certainly challenged Mulcair and others in the debates, but consistently with the underlying theme of "what's best for the NDP" rather than (as you say) "anti NDP".

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  22. jurist7:49 AM

    Agreed that his current economic positions are mostly reasonable (a bit too much fondness for free trade agreement and a lack of specifics in reconsidering tax structure aside). But I don't take a lot of solace in his mostly repeating the party's current positions verbatim, since that doesn't tell us much about how he'd exercise his own judgment in the future.

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  23. Anonymous11:43 AM

    Been thinking along the very same lines. Nice to see someone else doing so. Only thing that concerns me re Mulcair is the absence of mention of electoral reform & proportional representation. It's neither on his website nor have I heard him mention it during his leadership campaign. Given ER is top of the list for me that's problematic in terms of my placing him.

    Re Peggy Nash, I cringe whenever I hear weasel words from any politician. Tell me what you will do, what action you will take, what policy you will strongly support. Don't tell me you'll 'consider', 'review', 'put together a plan'... Am heartily sick of such waffle tactics.

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  24. Chrystal Ocean11:44 AM

    <span>Been thinking along the very same lines. Nice to see someone else doing so. Only thing that concerns me re Mulcair is the absence of mention of electoral reform & proportional representation. It's neither on his website nor have I heard him mention it during his leadership campaign. Given ER is top of the list for me that's problematic in terms of my placing him.  
     
    Re Peggy Nash, I cringe whenever I hear weasel words from any politician. Tell me what you will do, what action you will take, what policy you will strongly support. Don't tell me you'll 'consider', 'review', 'put together a plan'... Am heartily sick of such waffle tactics.</span>

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  25. Chrystal Ocean11:46 AM

    BTW, am planning to vote online during the convention, thus leaving my options open to changing circumstances. 

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  26. Chrystal Ocean11:48 AM

    BTW, am planning to vote online during the convention, thus leaving my options open to changing circumstances. 

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  27. Purple Library Guy6:26 PM

    "If the Liberals weren't progressive we would have never got medicare"--Are you trying to snowjob me?
    Operative phrase "If the liberal's weren't progressive".  As in, in the past.  In Lester Pearson's time.  When they were in minority and needed the NDP to prop them up. 
    It's been a while since then.  Since then we've had P.M. the PM, not to mention P.M. the finance minister, we've had Ignatieff, but above all we've had a Liberal backroom that's neoliberal to the core.  The Liberal party is a LOT further to the right than it was in Pierre Trudeau's or Lester Pearson's day.  Trying to pretend they're still that party is nonsensical.  But even in those days, can you imagine Tommy Douglas forging an electoral bargain with the white cats so they could try to beat the black cats together?

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  28. NDP guest from Cullen's riding, former YT MLA2:23 AM

    <p>I'm surprised about Cullen's high placement in your recommendations. Certainly Cullen is eloquent and right about bringing more Canadians into this political tent.  Cullen is lacking in strategic thinking, this blog has links to the analyses that point to the the mess and likely small or negative impact of the joint nomination process proposed by him.)  I would like to have given him a first ballot support because he's my MP, but this factor alone - temporarily joining forces with the Libs - prevents me from doing that.
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>I've been involved with the NDP since university days (40 years - jeesh), as a volunteer, a paid organizer for the party, as an MLA in the Yukon, and often use the word socialist without apology.
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>I won't give the Conservatives any credibility as they try to discredit Mulcair who they appear to feel most threatened by. The Conservatives mischaracerized info about both Dion and Ignatieff prior to the last election; this is just more of their dirty tricks that we're learning they're so good at. I'm not naive and there may well have been conversations between the Tories and Mulcair in 2007... but you can bet the Tory misinformation machine is shaping this one for the Tories' benefit.
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>I think the Conservatives are right about one thing, Mulcair is their biggest threat to remaining in government. And I declared for him last weekend.  He communicates well, he has experience in government, and emphasizes a sustainable approach to social, economic and regional development.  And Mulcair can win this for us.  I'm not concerned that we won't accomplish all we would like to in the next four years; the first four years is  our initial step.  I'm confident that New Democrats, through the regular policy conventions, can keep the agenda moving forward.  
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>Topp hasn't connected with me...  we'll see.  I agree with you, our site host, that we're wise to be patient about voting.  Things are heating up, and there could be new developments over the next couple of weeks!  
    </p>

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  29. jurist11:49 AM

    I do find it interesting that supporters of a candidate who I mentioned only provisionally (and I wouldn't say it's as a clear "second choice") are promoting the endorsement more than those of the one I list as a tentative first. Though I suppose that's based on the fact that Topp has plenty of figures with far more profile in the party endorsing him in much less guarded terms.

    As for Mulcair, I don't doubt that he has the shortest and easiest path to government in four years - again because while every other candidate will need to build a public profile across the country, he already has a winning one in Quebec. But for all the immediate threat posed by Harper, there's an equally significant danger if we trade off our longer-term values for that slightly shorter path to power in the next election - and I haven't yet seen enough to be satisfied Mulcair will make the right choices on that front (including leaving enough power in the hands of party members and MPs to set the party's direction).

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  30. NDP guest from Cullen's riding, former YT MLA12:27 PM

    I appreciate the blog you've set up.  It's one of the best in terms of discourse.

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  31. Purple Library Guy3:51 PM

    While I'm perfectly willing to believe the Conservatives believe Mr. Mulcair would be their greatest threat as NDP leader come next election, I'm not convinced it's actually the case.  The Conservatives have stylistic and ideological lenses through which they look at things, and in this case I would suggest those are misleading them.  Stylistically, they believe what works is being pugnacious and aggressive; Mr. Mulcair seems to them to come closest to that model.  Ideologically, they think left-ish ideas are crazy and without merit, and cannot imagine people being persuaded to adopt them in large numbers.  Therefore, they will fear the candidate who does not seem to have such ideas.
    In terms of personal style, it is not clear just how closely Mulcair fits the image that has come to be associated with him.  But in any case, there is not only one style that works; while it is bad to back up when the Cons attack, and in my opinion much better to counterattack than to spend much time defending, it is perfectly possible to do that while being calm or upbeat rather than angry or sneering as the Cons prefer. 
    In terms of ideology, first of all the Cons are fundamentally wrong about left-ish ideas.  That's the whole point of doing politics against them.  And second, it is my opinion that by the next election, world events will have made even clearer the bankruptcy of neoliberal economic ideas, an ideology the Conservatives hold fanatically and which for the most part the Liberals share.  The Eurozone will be in still deeper turmoil, this or other events (Iran?) will have triggered another major financial crisis, the American and Canadian economies will have been damaged by all this, and centre-right governments will be failing systematically to help people caught in the damage.  The greatest threat to the Conservatives would be a leader who understands these issues and will be ready to capitalize on them.  I don't see that as being Mr. Mulcair.

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  32. NDP guest from Cullen's riding, former YT MLA10:28 PM

    I do agree that being defensive or "social democrat lite" is not a winning strategy.  The new leader will need to be bold and clear on a number of matters that resonate with many voters, from taxes to public transit and green issues.  Given this argument, it puzzles me that you make Nathan your #2 choice given his persistent repetition of the progressive alliance/ joint nomination process as being central to his winning strategy.

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  33. NDP guest from Cullen's riding, former YT MLA10:28 PM

    I do agree that being defensive or "social democrat lite" is not a winning strategy.  The new leader will need to be bold and clear on a number of matters that resonate with many voters, from taxes to public transit and green issues.  Given this argument, it puzzles me that you make Nathan your #2 choice given his persistent repetition of the progressive alliance/ joint nomination process as being central to his winning strategy.

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  34. NDP guest from Cullen's riding, former YT MLA10:29 PM

    Mulcair did reference ER in the Montreal debate, essentially supporting the concept and relegating it to a post-election conversation.

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