Saturday, March 24, 2012

Leadership 2012 - Third Ballot Endorsement

The second-ballot results leave little room for doubt as to the ultimate conclusion of the NDP's leadership campaign - with the main question now being whether there will be a fourth ballot to determine the party's leader. And after two ballots of working on shaping the issues drawn from the leadership voting results, I'll now endorse giving the MP who did so much to build the party in Quebec the leadership role in doing the same across Canada.

And so, my third-ballot vote goes to...Thomas Mulcair.

Leadership 2012 - Second Ballot Endorsement

First-ballot results are here. My quick read is that three candidates have a remaining path to victory (no, I can't see any chance for Peggy Nash when even her vote combined with Dewar's wouldn't vault her ahead of Brian Topp), and one of those fits with the themes I most want to see emerging from the convention.

Which makes my second-ballot choice a fairly easy one: Nathan Cullen.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A few of the more interesting pieces of news from the NDP leadership campaign as it culminates in today's voting...

- For those looking for a rundown of the contenders in the smallest possible number of words, John Ibbitson's tip sheet has what you're after.

- A couple of late-campaign interviews worth noting include Brian Topp's talk with Aaron Wherry, as well as Planet S' discussion with Peggy Nash and Niki Ashton.

- Steve theorizes about the magic number for Thomas Mulcair to have a virtually inevitable path to victory - which is certainly a topic ripe for discussion, though I've heard other logical cases based on the actual second-choice polling released by Paul Dewar's camp as to how the actual number may be closer to 30% than 35%. And Dan releases a final set of power rankings.

- TC Norris points out the final number of advance voters at 55,659. But I draw roughly the exact opposite conclusion from the same number: with nearly half the votes left to be cast by last night (even allowing for the number of members who wouldn't ultimately vote), there's every chance that the remaining members could not only determine the order of the 2-through-5 cluster that's been so important all along, but also radically reshape the race. Meanwhile, Stephanie Levitz notes the uncertain dynamic resulting from the two types of voter pools.

- John Geddes, Jeff Jedras, Chantal Hebert and Andrew Coyne all offer their take on yesterday's showcases.

- Frank Graves makes the case for inter-party cooperation, while Greg Lyle offers reason to think that a strong social-democratic message within the NDP can be an electoral winner on its own and Nik Nanos similarly notes that there's no lack of voters willing to look to the NDP as Canada's next government.

- And finally, Paul Wells recommends that voters choose based on who actually inspires passion among NDP members, rather than worrying too much about strategic calculations:
If there’s anyone left out there who’s undecided, just pick the person who makes you happiest to be a New Democrat. It’ll never guarantee victory. But it’ll make both victory and defeat worth the work.

New column day

Here, featuring my musings on how political parties should be able to function without the top-down direction of a permanent leader - and the example the federal NDP has set on that front.

(And as you may have noticed, it's running a couple of days later than usual due to the Leader-Post's Saskatchewan budget coverage in the meantime.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Musical interlude

In keeping with the convention theme...KTA - Longer than a Lifetime

(And if anybody has audio of the song from Jack Layton's tribute, feel free to pass along the link.)

Leadership 2012 - First Ballot Endorsement

The NDP's leadership campaign has presented such a wide variety of opportunities and questions for party members that it's been difficult to decide who to endorse - and I've reached my own first-ballot decision only after taking time to see how those have been balanced out in this afternoon's leadership showcase. But for what it's worth, here's my endorsement for the many members who have chosen to wait to decide for themselves.

To start with, I'll be shifting my first choice from my preliminary endorsement - not because Brian Topp's positive message is any less important than it's always been, but because his late-campaign strategy has been so closely identified with personality politics directed toward Thomas Mulcair.

My goal on the first ballot is both to shape the choices for subsequent ballots, and to make sure that some of the key themes of the campaign are reflected in the voting results. And given the presumptive lead held by Mulcair so far (meaning that there's no need to vote for him immediately to keep him on the ballot), the choice has come down to two candidates.

Throughout the leadership campaign, Nathan Cullen's joint nomination proposal has been more a source of controversy than strength. But with Mulcair now taking the position that he doesn't want to cooperate with other parties even in a post-election coalition, Cullen's position now takes on some additional importance: undoubtedly it'll be tougher for Mulcair to orient the NDP away from its longstanding and highly successful cooperative approach if the candidate who's encouraging a move in the other direction receives a vote of confidence from the party's membership.

Meanwhile, Paul Dewar's interest in party organization and movement-building stands in contrast to Mulcair's still-unclear position. And a strong first-ballot showing for Dewar could work wonders in ensuring that an eventual leader pays due attention to that part of the NDP's mission, rather than focusing excessively on the conventional-wisdom bubble which so often excludes many of the voters the NDP needs to win over.

As I've mentioned before, I consider Cullen to be the better retail politician of the two, and arguably the one I'd most want to see elected leader as the convention plays out (so long as he himself focuses more on building the NDP rather than what still seems like a futile mission toward multi-party electoral strategies). For now, though, my first-ballot support will go to...

Paul Dewar.

But of course, whether you agree or not, now's the time to vote. And we'll find out soon how all we've seen over the past few months will translate into members' support.

The rainbow coalition

I noted a couple of days ago that Stephane Dion's Lib leadership campaign offered some cautionary tales for the NDP's contenders. But one of his more effective strategic choices has been embraced wholeheartedly.

At the Libs' convention, Dion's green theme set his camp apart in a sea of red. But the NDP's candidates have chosen a wide array of colours to similarly show momentum: Ashton blue, Topp yellow, Cullen green, Nash purple and Mulcair black are all distinct presences throughout the hall.

Of course, no single candidate will stand out as much for that diversity. But the symbolism of bringing all the groups together at the end looks to be a major plus.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Brian-Michel calculates the expected outcome of the 2011 election minus the Robocon election fraud based on Anke Kessler's data. Alison, thwap and Saskboy all rightly lament that a government claiming that a majority entitles it to treat Canada as a helpless plaything may never have had a legitimate mandate in the first place, while Jack Layton had a chance to co-operate to replace the Cons stolen from him.

- And Mark Kennedy reports on some of the results, as the Cons look poised to attack Canadians' standard of living in retirement in a way they'd never have dared without the ill-gotten security of three and half years before answering for their increasing unpopularity in another election.

- Meanwhile, Christian Paradis broke ethics rules in giving preferential treatment to his former caucusmate Rahim Jaffer. And as usual, the Cons think law, order and accountability are only for people they don't like.

- Finally, in the wake of another increase in EI recipients, Erin reminds us that under 40% of jobless workers actually receive benefits.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leadership 2012 - Policy Highlights

With the NDP's leadership convention set to start tomorrow (and assorted hospitality suites already starting up tonight), I won't be able to finish off my initial plan to put together full policy reviews for each of the candidates. But instead, I'll take some time to highlight a few innovative ideas which haven't received a lot of media attention, but stand out as deserving more discussion within the NDP regardless of who wins the leadership.

Judicare, proposed by Niki Ashton:
Ensuring that all Canadians are genuinely equal before the law starting by creating a dedicated federal transfer for “judicare”, modelled on the Canada Health Transfer, that would allow legal aid programs to expand the range of services they provide to Canadians who can’t otherwise afford a lawyer;
No less an authority than the Governor General has pointed out that more needs to be done to facilitate Canadians' access to justice. But rather than limiting that effort solely to the voluntary capacity of bar associations, Ashton's proposal would ensure that part of the task is carried out through public funding.

Arctic University, proposed by Nathan Cullen:
• Work with the Northern colleges to foster an Arctic University to help develop future leaders, and allow Northerners to pursue higher education without leaving their families and communities.
In addition to being a worthwhile idea on its own, the proposal would also serve as an important starting point in considering what the federal government can do to ensure that Canadians falling under its jurisdiction (including on-reserve First Nations as well as territorial residents) receive both meaningful self-determination and a reasonable standard of services, rather than being alternately vilified and forgotten by a federal government determined to do as little as possible.

International Women's Equality, proposed by Paul Dewar:
- Make economic, educational and democratic empowerment for women and girls a core focus of Canada's development policy;

- Promote women's meaningful participation in peace building as a central plank of our international diplomacy, and implement Canada’s National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security;
For all the efforts that the leadership candidates have rightly made to point out the continued gender gap within Canada, the need for action is even more glaring abroad. And a concerted effort to include women in international development and diplomacy could go a long way toward breaking down barriers to both gender equality and general development.

One-Stop Consumer Protection, proposed by Thomas Mulcair:
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (Finance)
This proliferation of separate agencies has inevitably made the dissemination of information scattered and difficult for consumers to access. Nowhere is this clearer than in the government’s digital presence. The website for Industry Canada`s Office of Consumer Affairs, for instance, provides extensive content addressing a wide variety of ongoing consumer concerns, but safety recalls on toys must be sought out at Health Canada's website and those seeking information on financial products must do so at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's website.
Canadians deserve a single point of contact for vital consumer protection information and a single point of responsibility to ensure the interests of consumers will be a priority—not just the interests of well-connected corporations.
With the Service Canada model adopted for so many interactions between the federal government and all kinds of actors, it's stunning that consumer protection - one of the areas of public jurisdiction where there's an especially obvious need for user-friendliness - has instead been both broken into multiple agencies and chronically under-resourced.

Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, proposed by Peggy Nash:
Pursue the implementation of a system of proportional representation by:
• establishing a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, in collaboration with other parties, within the first six months of forming government to make specific recommendations on which system (or combination of systems) is best suited for Canada as well as the most effective legislative process to implement the changes;
While PR is of course a staple of NDP party policy, Nash's proposal moves well down the road in suggesting how it can actually be implemented: not by following the referendum model that's failed at the provincial level, but instead by engaging in a careful but efficient process to review and adapt our electoral system.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

I didn't think much could come along at this point in the NDP's leadership campaign to significantly change my voting considerations [edit: other than the type of organizational problem discussed here]. But the CROP poll published in Le Soleil may well do just that.

No, it isn't a surprise to see Thomas Mulcair well ahead of the field in Quebec. But for all the best efforts of the rest of the campaigns as well as two debates centred on the province, not a single other candidate ranks ahead of "none of the above". And while I've emphasized the importance of allowing for three and a half years worth of growth rather than simply assuming candidate profiles will stay where they are, it's rather difficult to ignore the lack of progress so far for the rest of the field - particularly as others point out the potential for Mulcair to extend the NDP's Quebec reach.


- Paul Dewar's endorsement from two Sikh student groups may be a highly significant development if it allows him to win over enough down-ballot support from Martin Singh's camp - though of course Singh's own stated second choice would seem to render that possibility moot.

- Alice discusses Peggy Nash's candidacy:

- Brian Topp releases his closing argument:

- Environics places the NDP in a dead heat with the Cons nationally. Chantal Hebert and Antonia Maioni discuss how the leadership campaign will affect the broader political scene in Quebec, while Carlito Pablo considers it a matter of defining the NDP. Marcus McCann worries about the effect of a large number of new members on down-ballot support - though accounting for about 10,000 new Quebec members, a few thousand apiece attracted by Nathan Cullen and Martin Singh and the normal sign-up work we'd expect from the rest of the candidates, I'm not sure I see much reason for concern. But Joan Bryden's report on the complexities and uncertainties involved in a preferential voting process will certainly make the weekend interesting. Geoffrey Rowan analyzed the candidates' messages. And finally, CBC broke the race down into four main themes.

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Sixth Estate catches a right-wing election contractor defending vote suppression, then theorizes as to how Robocon may have come together.

- The introduction of Doctors for Fair Taxation is certainly a positive step in ensuring that Canadian physicians show their support for a more fair and equal society. But I do wonder whether there's any advantage to dividing matters along professional lines rather than generally uniting behind, say, Canadians for Tax Fairness as an indication of more widespread support.

- Frances Russell laments the polarization of Canadian politics. But particularly given that we don't seemikely to be rid of the Harper Cons anytime soon, I'd much rather see a strong opposite reaction than follow the U.S. model in which the right-wing party is able to drag politics in its preferred direction with little opposition.

- Steven Chase reports on the potential for other factors to supersede money in politics by noting that half a dozen NDP MPs were elected without spending a cent.

- Finally, I'm not sure there's much room for doubt that part of the small-c conservative model includes undercutting independent art and culture. And sadly, the Sask Party looks to be getting its way in eliminating any vestiges of what was once a thriving industry under the NDP's government. Meanwhile, Scott looks at the Saskatchewan budget more generally.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On warning signs

It may be that upwards of 70% of the NDP's leadership votes are already in before the convention this weekend. But here's another suggestion as to why it's worth being in the minority who wait for all the available information before casting a ballot - as well as a cautionary tale in what to look for from the convention presentations.

Much of Stephane Dion's tenure as leader of the Libs was defined by a basic inability to handle even relatively basic planning and message coordination when it counted - ranging from his campaign interview false-start, to the late-delivered and poor-quality video that did so much to undermine the 2008 coalition. But less noted is that Libs had an obvious hint as to his difficulties in the area: at the leadership convention where he was elected, Dion had the plug pulled on a convention speech which seemed to bear little relationship to the time allotted. (Of course, that seemed to be forgotten by the next day as Dion made his way up the middle of the Ignatieff/Rae divide.)

So while it'll be worth watching how much the candidates can inspire the crowd on Friday, we should also pay close attention to whether anybody's campaign shows signs of disorganization on the biggest stage the leadership candidates will face. And while I suspect there shouldn't be much problem with the NDP's field of contenders, I'll be especially wary of any candidate who fails that test.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Another day, another set of NDP leadership campaign stories.

- Niki Ashton won the support of the NDP's Socialist Caucus.

- Nathan Cullen expanded on his joint nomination proposal with a far more appealing discussion of co-operation in general:
Cullen isn't shy about what he has in mind.

"If the explicit question is put to me: Am I willing to work with the Liberal party in a coalition government, then yes. I was last time."

Moreover, he said the parties should make it clear while they are seeking votes from Canadians that a coalition is a "possible scenario."

"Here is the challenge that we cannot avoid. It is that you can't say the Liberal party are evil incarnate or the worst things ever before an election but we're willing to work with those same people after. It's discordant. It doesn't sit right, particularly with progressive voters."

In the last election, Harper centred his strategy around repeatedly warning voters that he needed a majority government to prevent the opposition parties from forming a coalition.

The next time, said Cullen, that argument won't wash with many voters because they have seen how Harper's Tories have governed so pompously with the current majority...
Meanwhile, both Frank Graves and Barbara Yaffe talk about some of the possibilities for cooperation.

- Alice offered her assessment of Paul Dewar:

- Thomas Mulcair offered up an election strategy including a 338 Fund for riding-level campaigns and a commitment to have at least some campaign ready in every riding across Canada. That offers some useful indication as to how he's thinking about organizational issues - but still doesn't answer the question of what his plans would be between now and 2015.

- Tim Naumetz reports that other campaigns are "shocked" about Brian Topp's lack of organization. But let's give Topp this much: he's still apparently convinced Jeffrey Simpson and L. Ian MacDonald that he's one competitor in a two-person race - while Carol Goar slightly more thorough summary of the choices.

- Duncan Cameron reiterated his support for Peggy Nash, pointing out her positive reviews in the media during the leadership campaign as a new reason for the endorsement. The Ottawa Citizen recognized how much Ed Broadbent's comments last week were blown out of proportion. Tim Harper commented on the race to define the NDP's new leader. And the imminent election of the NDP's permanent successor to Jack Layton is also leading to plenty of discussion about what Jack accomplished - ranging from winning 3.5 million new votes for the left to building a bridge between social democracy and the wider public (with some associated costs) to "sinister mind control experiment!". Which offers an always-appreciated excuse to link to IP.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Dan Gardner writes about the Cons' backup plan of answering their own wrongdoing with criticism of anybody who dares to investigate it - and points out the dangers of that approach:
(W)hat happens if Elections Canada delivers a report even a fraction as damning as the one Sheila Fraser produced in 2004? Will the government express contrition and call a judicial inquiry? Or will it carry out the mother of all hatchet jobs on Elections Canada?
Stephen Harper has impugned the professionalism and good faith of everyone from the RCMP to the Supreme Court of Canada, and he has done so when the stakes were relatively small. So how likely is it that he would respond to an unfavourable report from an agency he has long despised, on a matter that could imperil his government, by launching a vicious campaign to impugn the professionalism and good faith of that agency? The answer must be “very.”

And if that happened, it would be a disaster for the country.

The goal in all of this isn’t merely to catch and punish anyone who engaged in vote fraud. It’s to assure Canadians that such despicable behaviour will not taint future elections. This is about restoring faith — in our electoral system and in the legitimacy of the governments it produces. To do that, there must be universal agreement that a full and fair investigation was conducted, as there was when the auditor general’s report on the sponsorship scandal was released.

But a campaign to impugn Elections Canada would destroy any hope of universal agreement. Instead, perceptions would break along partisan lines.

Faith in our electoral system could suffer, causing cynicism and detachment to spread like bacteria in a Petri dish.
- Steve Rennie reports that the Cons received - and ignored - advice that using the nuclear option to deal with every single conceivable labour dispute might not be a bright idea.

- Joe Couture lists some possible Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates - with some particularly noteworthy news in that both Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen both mention they're considering another run.

- Meanwhile, CUPE points out the mess the Sask Party is making in the meantime with corporate-first arrangements like the Amicus long-term care facility. And a group of health-care unions is reaching out with suggestions for revamping and legitimizing the essential services law that's been struck down.

- And finally, Paul Wells notes that while the Cons' attack ad on Bob Rae has drawn more attention, it's their latest bit of jingoism that looks like a sign of a worried government - and not without reason given how many Canadians are concerned about the country's direction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats bound for the floor.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher uncover an apparently-fictitious employee listed as one of Con contractor RackNine's key contacts - nicely paralleling the obvious coverup behind "Pierre Poutine". And Dr. Dawg places the latest revelations in context with the rest of the Cons' misdirections and coverups.

- Meanwhile, the Cons are applying their theory that "the less anybody knows, the better" on the international stage as well.

- Hugh Mackenzie deconstructs the questionable assumptions used in Don Drummond's report to try to foist massive cuts onto the province without any real assessment of the value of public services.

- Finally, Craig Scott's by-election victory in Toronto-Danforth may not come as much surprise. But the fact that Scott was able to hold not only the seat but also the vote share of the most popular party leader in Canadian politics - even with at least one other party pouring its every effort into the seat (unlike in the general election) - surely signals that there's ample room for the NDP to grow in Toronto.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A quick look at the latest news as the NDP's leadership convention approaches.

- Alice's latest Power Play appearance saw her discuss Nathan Cullen's campaign:

Meanwhile, Cullen received an endorsement from Murray Dobbin - which is particularly noteworthy since Dobbin had previously lined up behind Peggy Nash.

- Paul Dewar's interview with Jessica Bruno included this on his top three priorities:
What are the top three policy issues you think the NDP should focus on? Why?

“Retooling our economy and fixing up the mess being brought in by the Conservatives. Over the past six years, the Harper government has been slowly turning the clock back on our economy, turning away from solid manufacturing and value added jobs to being completely focused on energy exports. We need to stop looking back to the 19th century and start creating the innovative 21st century jobs that will drive our economy for the future.

“Strengthening our social safety net. The Harper government’s attack on OAS, Health Care, and other fundamental parts of our social safety net is also an attack on the caring society we as Canadians celebrate.

“Correcting centuries of injustice by respecting Canada’s First Nations. That means more than speeches and meetings. It means addressing the inequalities that exists in health care and education for many First Nations. And moving forward it is dealing with First Nations on a nation to nation level—one of mutual respect and understanding. There is no reason that in Canada, in this day and age, that we can stand back and allow these conditions to continue."
- Brian Topp succinctly summed up the lesson worth taking from the 2011 election:
Topp said it's important to remember that Layton left "an extraordinary legacy" before his death last August.

"He showed that the NDP, as the NDP, could be very successful."
- Alice unveiled a detailed post on fund-raising and momentum - with Brian Topp's late-campaign returns looking like a rather striking development. But while she focuses on the relative positioning of the candidates, I'll again note how important the total fund-raising looks to be as compared to the spending limit: with three candidates already over $300,000 in revenue and two more in the $200,000 range, the entire NDP leadership field figures to have less campaign debt than the Libs' new leader alone did in 2006.

- Jamey Heath theorizes that the most important split in the campaign is between candidates who see last year's federal election as having drastically changed the NDP's position, and those who don't. Peter O'Neil wants the NDP to favour unfettered tar sands growth as a matter of national unity - because it worked so well for the last opposition leader to do exactly that. Steve V takes a look at the possible outcomes. And Joan Bryden reports that the NDP will be ready to start defining its new leader from day one - rather than waiting for the Cons to get there first.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The decisive question

Following up on my candidate questionnaire and previous posts about party organization, I'll offer my own observations on the final two questions I posed to the leadership candidates.

I start from the premise that the primary goals of a leader are to serve as the party's public face and chief strategist. And while all of the candidates have shown at least some obvious ability in either or both of those areas, the biggest issue facing members this week will be to sort through the fact that there's such a wide range of strengths which may not all be applied under some scenarios.

It's fairly easy to see the strengths of the lower-tier candidates worked into the structure of whoever wins: surely nobody will want to undermine the enthusiasm Niki Ashton has built on the Prairies and among young members, or Martin Singh's inroads into the Sikh community.

As for the perceived upper tier, Brian Topp may not have caught fire as a candidate, but I don't see that affecting the general view that he's one of the country's top strategic minds (and someone who should remain part of the NDP's inner circle for a long time to come). Nathan Cullen stands out as the candidate with the highest upside as the face of the NDP outside of Quebec (and arguably within it as well). Paul Dewar's organizational plan would serve as a valuable blueprint for any of the candidates, but speaks particularly well to his own thought process as a leader. Peggy Nash has lots to offer on the party- and movement-building side as well, while also having plenty of ability to strengthen the party's economic credentials (as all candidates seem to agree we need to do). And Thomas Mulcair has displayed his massive strengths as both a spokesperson and strategist within Quebec, with potential to expand that appeal nationally.

Ideally, we'd see all of those talents put to good use. But there are still some reasons for concern as to whether or not they will be.

The obvious rivalry between Mulcair and Topp over the course of the leadership campaign leads to some worry that a Mulcair-led inner circle would have doubts about the NDP's long-time strategic team - and Mulcair's limited answers about his plans for the party don't help matters. Mulcair has also criticized Dewar's party-building plan, leading me to wonder whether he'll use what may be the best available organizational blueprint. And Cullen's rapport with voters may not achieve the greatest possible effect if it's being used to pursue an interparty strategy that doesn't find a willing partner or serve the purposes it's intended to achieve.

Of course, the members' means of trying to achieve that end is through a vote for a single leadership candidate. But that leads to what may be the key question in evaluating the candidates: who, if elected, would best recognize and apply the collective strengths of the leadership candidates, caucus and party at large? And my suspicion is that the answer to that question - viewing the candidates in terms of organizational leadership, rather than either personal profile alone or compromises among camps - should be our guiding principle in deciding which candidate to support.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

With the NDP's leadership campaign entering its final week, it's no great surprise to see plenty more punditry than usual surrounding the race. But what might influence the ballots cast this week (which may end up making all the difference)?

- The most attention over the last day or so has gone to Doris Layton's letter in support of Brian Topp - which certainly offers a stronger and more sentimental appeal than a lot of the other late-campaign messages. But given that her endorsement had already been announced, I'm far from convinced the latest appeal will make all that much difference - no matter how well-worded.

- Bill Tieleman offers his theory as to how Peggy Nash can win the leadership. And T.C. Norris provides similar analysis of the relative positioning of the candidates, albeit leading to a conclusion that Thomas Mulcair is likely to emerge victorious.

- Tim Harper wonders whether Mulcair's opponents have helped pave his path to victory by not coordinating with each other's camps. And in particular, I'll note that the work the campaigns have done to encourage advance ballots aimed at a single candidate (or limited number of them) may make it easier for an early leader to hold on in a multiple-ballot vote.

- John Ibbitson declares Mulcair a shoo-in before offering a warning about undue certainty in prediction:
(A Cullen win) remains the least-unlikely alternative to the much-more likely victory by Mr. Mulcair. Your correspondent is as certain of this as he was in October, 2007, that Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic presidential nomination.
- Ish Theilheimer looks to sum up the differences between the leadership candidates. And John Baglow sorts out a four-candidate top tier.

- Finally, Mulcair offered a stronger rebuttal than usual to the suggestion he'd want to move the NDP to the right:
(Topp) has repeatedly said that Mulcair's vision for modernizing the party would move the party over to the centre.

But in a french-language interview with Radio-Canada's Sunday political flagship program Les Coulisses du Pouvoir, Mulcair said he has never used that expression.

"Others have used it for me, and attributed it to me," he said.

"What I have said from the start, however, is we have to bring the centre towards the NDP," specified Mulcair, who sees a distinction between the two positions.
- Which is for the best, since Frank Graves points out why the NDP looks to be in a strong position in building toward 2015:
Mr. Graves said he believes, based on his polling trends and contrary to the view held in red Liberal territory, that the NDP has shown, leaderless as it has been and with most of its star frontbenchers out of House action since October, that its success last year was not “an ephemeral blip propelled by the charismatic authority of Jack Layton.”

Mr. Graves posed that it is because, underneath the effect Mr. Layton’s leadership and strategic success in Quebec had, there have been dramatic subterranean shifts in Canada’s voting population in the past five years, which in the broader international sense, have also been reflected by the post-recession upheaval over the mushrooming gap between the poor and the rich.

“It is the increasing ideological fragmentation of the Canadian electorate, but also new sort of splits on, I’m not sure another term captures it as well, basically class conflicts. The new dominant issue that we see, but which nobody else is talking about, what the Americans are noting as the new number one issue, is income inequality,” said Mr. Graves.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - March 18, 2012

Since last week, we've seen the NDP's leadership campaign win plenty more attention in the media. But has any of the news managed to change the positioning of the candidates?

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Well, we've certainly seen Thomas Mulcair under the microscope more than he's ever been. But while the week gave rise to a couple of points which may not help his cause (with controversy over his positions on marijuana decriminalization and Syria among the points which may lose him later-ballot support), he still looks likely to hold a significant first-ballot lead over the next tier of candidates. And with Martin Singh expressly directing second-choice support toward Mulcair, we should expect another 5-point bump beyond what Mulcair gets on the first ballot before the rest of the candidates' supporters sort through their options.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

Nash still looks like the most likely of those options to emerge as leader. Until we see some more recent polling, the best operating assumption seems to be that she's still in the #2 position to start with, and she's positioned herself as a plausible choice for backers of all of the rest of the candidates.

3. Paul Dewar (3)

But I do see the gap between the #2 and #4 positions on this list tightening as the race draws to a close - and the most important question may be that of who ends up #2 on the first ballot. If Dewar can get the jump on Nash, then he figures to have a strong chance to draw in supporters from her and Topp to set up a final ballot challenge to Mulcair - and the more time members spend wondering about the front-runner, the less likely they'll be to focus on Dewar's French as a deciding factor.

4. Nathan Cullen (4)

Unlike the two candidates ahead of him, Cullen has been the beneficiary of plenty of pundit commentary over the past month or so - and it seems to have at least some basis in fund-raising numbers. But the issue for Cullen remains his ability to draw in down-ballot support, so merely starting off in second place may not be enough if a good number of Nash/Dewar/Topp supporters join forces.

5. Brian Topp (5)

While Ed Broadbent's public statements this week earned Topp some attention, they also hinted at the largest issue with Topp's campaign: less than a week from the leadership vote, he still hasn't developed enough of a profile to make a dent compared to his more storied supporters. And that combined with a backlash from other camps figures to severely limit Topp's likelihood of convincing anybody to offer down-ballot support.

6. Niki Ashton (6)

One of the less-discussed advantages any candidate has enjoyed in the leadership race has been the fact that the Harper Cons have been pushing a pipeline right through Nathan Cullen's riding, giving him a signature issue to point to throughout the race. Ashton's great "what if" may be the question of whether she could have turned earlier news about a Viterra buyout - fitting with both her prairie base and concern about foreign takeovers - into enough of a membership and profile boost to rank higher in the field.

7. Martin Singh (7)

He's maximized his possible impact on the race by offering his second-choice support to Mulcair. But I'm still less than convinced that he's done much for his standing within the party even if Mulcair wins.

Leadership 2012 Questionnaire Response - Niki Ashton

Finally, Niki Ashton had this to offer in response to my party organization questionnaire:
1. As leader, what changes (if any) would you seek to make to the NDP's:
(a) caucus management and discipline?

Caucus members are elected as New Democrats, and I believe that, where there is a clearly established party policy, they are obliged to vote accordingly. That was the case, for example, with equal marriage rights for same sex couples. But on issues where there is no party policy, the issue needs to be open to debate; it should not be up to the Leader’s Office to decide policy. If Caucus members voted in opposition to my view or the majority view on an issue where there is no established party policy, I would impose no penalties and no sanctions, either directly or indirectly.

(b) membership engagement and organizational structure?
(c) policy development process?
(d) candidate recruitment and nomination process?
(e) relationship to other political parties?
(f) relationship to traditional allies in the labour, environmental and social justice movements?
(g) relationship to interests not traditionally allied with the NDP?

I believe we have a hugely untapped resource in the party’s electoral district associations, committees and commissions to build relationships between our party and civil society organizations, relationships that could inform policy development and ensure that we respond to the needs of Canadians. The party should provide these committees with the resources and the support necessary to undertake this important work.

One example of something that’s worked well in the past and needs to be repeated: In 2010, the Saskatchewan NDP Rainbow Pride Committee hosted policy roundtables two years ago with CBOs in the queer community and used the input from those discussions to produce a policy paper for consideration by the provincial party. We need to build on models like these.

Electoral district associations could host policy roundtables at the community level to give a voice to people who feel left out of the current political process. The goal would be to reach out to people who appear to share many of our values but have not voted for us in the recent past. This is particularly the case in rural Canada, where I think too many people in our party have made the mistake of assuming that people who vote Conservative do so because they hold conservative values. I don’t think that’s necessarily true and I think we need to do a better job as a party of reaching out to them. We can’t afford to write off all of rural Canada. That’s the kind of old politics practiced by Stephen Harper—the politics of division and polarization—and we shouldn’t be modeling our strategies after him.

As you know, I have made a particular commitment to increase our party’s presence on the Prairies. This week, I called for a Prairie Breakthrough Conference to be held in 2013, a conference modelled on the successful Quebec breakthrough conference that produced the Sherbrooke Declaration. This conference would bring together activists from community-based organizations, academics and progressives of every political stripe, including those who have not supported the NDP in the recent past, to develop a package of policies for consideration by the party.

2. As leader of the NDP, what roles would you anticipate within the party for:
(a) each of your fellow leadership candidates?
(b) any noteworthy organizers, volunteers or other participants in the leadership campaign on behalf of the other leadership candidates?
(c) the NDP's campaign team members from recent federal elections?

As I said recently, we need to stay focused on the goal of replacing Stephen Harper. That means we need to broaden our appeal and build a bigger tent. This is not the time to be excluding people because of disagreements we’ve had during this contest. I've worked with all of my fellow candidates for a number of years and I know that they are all good New Democrats, committed to building a better country. People watching this leadership race will know that I have disagreed with other candidates on issues of substance. But I have tremendous respect for all of my fellow candidates as individuals.

All of them, and their campaign teams, would play major roles under my leadership if they wished, as would the NDP’s campaign teams from recent elections. Obviously, I would bring new people into the mix, and I would look for new ways of doing things. But I would not marginalize anyone.

3. If another candidate is elected leader, what other role do you believe would suit you best within the NDP?

I believe it would be a bit arrogant to assign myself a specific role. Obviously, there are ideas and issues that I have outlined in my campaign for the leadership, and whatever role I play in the future, I would like the opportunity to pursue many of those ideas further. Overall, I would look forward to being part of a team building toward government in 2015. I would be interested in supporting the ground work we need to do in Quebec. And I would be particularly interested in working with New Democrats and our allies across the Prairies to build our party's presence in this part of the country and lead the way for a major Prairie Breakthrough in 2015.
Ashton too looks to have nicely addressed some of the points of great concern in terms of the relationship between members, MPs and the leader - with members having the ability to set party policy, and MPs being able to think independently while ultimately working with the policy developed through the membership. And her commitment to building links to civil society at the local level looks like another important piece of the puzzle in assembling a progressive movement capable of winning power and doing the greatest amount of good possible upon doing so.

Meanwhile, Ashton's focus on prairie building as a major part of her preferred role within the party looks to be a request which any new leader should easily be able to take into account. But I'll be particularly curious to see which of Ashton's often-innovative policy positions she'll continue to advocate after the leadership campaign comes to a close.

Leadership 2012 Questionnaire Response - Paul Dewar

While noting the resources involved in responding to a request for information delivered late in the NDP's leadership campaign, I have to be impressed when a candidate who could easily enough have pointed to a well-publicized platform plank instead deal directly with the specific issues raised in a questionnaire. And the final two responses get extra points on that front - starting with Paul Dewar.
1. As leader, what changes (if any) would you seek to make to the NDP's:
(a) caucus management and discipline?

I know that as a big tent, our party includes a diversity of opinion. As I've shown during my years working as the Foreign Affairs critic (one of the files with the widest variety of opinions in our party), I reach unity and consensus through engagement and discussion.

As leader, Jack built a caucus team based on consensus and consultation with all of us elected MPs, and as leader I would follow the same path. For me, caucus solidarity is crucial and something all MPs must understand and abide by to the best of their abilities. It is something a leader must work on by meeting and listening in groups and individually to each and every MP.

I also want to be clear that I believe that difference of opinion held within caucus is natural. I am not interested in punishing colleagues for minor transgressions over policy. Rather, we must accept that our differences in opinion are valuable learning experiences and not reasons to divide us. Our party is a big tent, even more so since the last election, and what is important is that we, as a caucus, stick to a vision that encompasses our social democratic values and principles.

(b) membership engagement and organizational structure?

I'm the only candidate with a clear plan for engaging our members and riding associations in reaching out to voters and building our capacity to win the next 70 seats we need to form government. The details are in my Next 70 plan:

-Develop regional outreach plans, including a Western Strategy to reach out to new voters in Western Canada.

-Create Civil Society Outreach teams, led by MPs, to listen and share views, and coordinate with allies to advance progressive policies and build electoral support for winning the next election.

-Hire a youth organizer to work with campus clubs, youth groups and civil society organizations to organize young Canadians on college and university campuses, at high schools, workplaces and communities across the country.

-Implement an outreach strategy to New Canadian communities to increase diversity in our party membership and organization.

(c) policy development process?

As part of my Next 70 plan I’ve proposed to:

Set up a commission to organize around ‘Ideas for Progress’ so that we can build upon Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians and create what Stephen Lewis described as the “manifesto for social democracy”. This commission would include Canadians from different walks of life, including the arts, labour, academia, business, agriculture, environmental organizations, poverty groups, women's rights organizations and others. It would allow greater access and involvement for Canadians in the development of our policies and planning.

In addition to this specific ‘Ideas for Progress’ initiative, I’d like to bolster our policy outreach and development processes at the regional and local riding levels in the build-up to our Party’s policy convention already slated for 2013.

(d) candidate recruitment and nomination process?

I will provide greater support to candidate search committees, I will maintain open and democratic nomination processes and I will provide additional resources to train candidates. We will share these resources with our provincial sections and progressive municipal allies.

(e) relationship to other political parties?

I have always worked with others to get results on issues that matter to us. I will continue that work in parliament with other party MPs or whole caucuses in Parliament and on an issue-by-issue basis.

(f) relationship to traditional allies in the labour, environmental and social justice movements?

I'm proud of our roots in labour, social and environmental movements. I will maintain and strengthen these ties, particularly by creating Civil Society Outreach teams, led by MPs, to listen and share views, and coordinate with allies to advance progressive policies and build electoral support for winning the next election.

(g) relationship to interests not traditionally allied with the NDP?

My outreach plans are meant to find common ground with those who have not traditionally voted NDP or have not voted at all. I have done that work in Ottawa Centre where we have grown our support in every election since I was first elected. I will create these new ties and expand our base by providing concrete solutions to issues that people care about, solutions that are rooted in our values and principles as social democrats.

2. As leader of the NDP, what roles would you anticipate within the party for:
(a) each of your fellow leadership candidates?

As soon as I win the leadership, I will invite my leadership colleagues to a meeting to discuss the road ahead. Ensuring that our caucus and our party is united and ready to take on Stephen Harper and the Government’s budget will be my first priority on March 25th – win or lose.

Part of building on our positive leadership contest will be to make sure that every one of my fellow candidates will be a big part of our fight inside and outside parliament to win the next 70 seats. I won’t speculate on specific roles before the leadership vote.

(b) any noteworthy organizers, volunteers or other participants in the leadership campaign on behalf of the other leadership candidates?

All campaigns teams have displayed great organizational skills. I don’t think it’s appropriate to mention individual names, but let me say this. One of the truly positive developments from our leadership race is that it has helped train a whole new generation of NDP campaigners. Organizers, press secretaries, social media experts – you name it, we’ve now improved an already strong NDP staff and volunteer team.

As leader I look forward to the opportunity to expand the team!

(c) the NDP's campaign team members from recent federal elections?

I will reach out to the campaign team members from recent elections to ensure they will be a part of our efforts going forward. Political judgment and strategic thinking are valuable skills that are gained over time through successes and mistakes. We will need the expertise of every team member to replicate our successes and avoid repeating mistakes.

3. If another candidate is elected leader, what other role do you believe would suit you best within the NDP?

I've always been a team player. We are fighting for a cause that is greater than any one of us. If our members elect another leader, I will offer my full commitment to working with our leader in whatever role they see fit for me in the team.
If there's any nit to pick in Dewar's response, it's that he's framed his first steps as leader around a question that he himself doesn't want to answer: it would seem a logical extension of "I'd ask what the other candidates want to do" to anticipate that Dewar himself would be able to offer a response.

But that's a minor point in what's otherwise a thoughtful and thorough response to some of the major organizational issues faced by any political party. And in particular, Dewar's commitment to working based on consensus decision-making and member-driven policy development and nomination processes - rather than seeing a need to close ranks and impose top-down discipline - only adds to my comfort level with the organizational plan he had already released.

Leadership 2012 Questionnaire Response - Thomas Mulcair

Here's Thomas Mulcair's response to my leadership questionnaire on the NDP's party organization:
1. As leader, what changes (if any) would you seek to make to the NDP's:
(a) caucus management and discipline?
(b) membership engagement and organizational structure?
(c) policy development process?
(d) candidate recruitment and nomination process?
(e) relationship to other political parties?
(f) relationship to traditional allies in the labour, environmental and social justice movements?
(g) relationship to interests not traditionally allied with the NDP?

2. As leader of the NDP, what roles would you anticipate within the party
(a) each of your fellow leadership candidates?
(b) any noteworthy organizers, volunteers or other participants in the leadership campaign on behalf of the other leadership candidates?
(c) the NDP's campaign team members from recent federal elections?

3. If another candidate is elected leader, what other role do you believe would suit you best within the NDP?

Many of your questions raise issues of team-building and coordination. Rest
assured that Tom is a strong leader who will work with everyone in the
Party in order to continue to modernise its appeal to non-traditional
voters and core New Democrats alike. The objective is to form the
well-structured, solid Offcial Opposition that Stephen Harper will come to
regret. In order to succeed, everyone currently involved, and many more are
dearly needed.
As I noted before, I understand and appreciate that time is at a premium at the end of the leadership campaign. But particularly with similar questions having been directed at him in recent debates, I'm a bit disappointed not to see a bit more specificity from Mulcair.

Obviously it's a plus to recognize that we need to work on building the NDP's base as well as its reach toward non-traditional voters. But I have to hope Mulcair has given some significant thought to what needs to be done toward those ends - and it's frustrating that he seems locked into a front-runner's strategy of not showing his hand on some of the most important issues NDP members should be considering in deciding who's best positioned to lead the party.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Leadership 2012 Questionnaire Response - Peggy Nash

Last week, I crowdsourced some questions to the NDP's leadership candidates about their plans for party organization. (Unfortunately the comments have disappeared, and I'm still working on getting them to reappear - but as you'll see I incorporated changes into my draft version.)

Obviously it's been a busy time for the campaigns, and so I greatly appreciate that four have been able to provide at least some response so far. And I'll give them each a post to highlight the response and my own quick analysis - starting in reverse alphabetical order with Peggy Nash.
1. As leader, what changes (if any) would you seek to make to the NDP's:
(a) caucus management and discipline?
(b) membership engagement and organizational structure?
(c) policy development process?
(d) candidate recruitment and nomination process?
(e) relationship to other political parties?
(f) relationship to traditional allies in the labour, environmental and social justice movements?
(g) relationship to interests not traditionally allied with the NDP?

The answers to these questions can be found in Peggy's detailed organizational blueprint for forming government in 2015. You can read the plan in full here:

2. As leader of the NDP, what roles would you anticipate within the party
(a) each of your fellow leadership candidates?
(b) any noteworthy organizers, volunteers or other participants in the leadership campaign on behalf of the other leadership candidates?
(c) the NDP's campaign team members from recent federal elections?

I will examine the make-up of the caucus and staff team because they are all worthy of the positions they currently hold, and decide what changes can be made to include the 3 categories of people you have listed above so that the caucus is as united as possible and that each person is ideally suited for their role.

3. If another candidate is elected leader, what other role do you believe would suit you best within the NDP?

I would ideally be suited to take back my previous role as Finance Critic.
So what do I take from Nash's response? It's true that her party-building platform largely deals with the contents of question 1, subject to a couple of points such as policy development and caucus discipline. And that certainly speaks well to her awareness and interest in party-building as a fundamental role of a leader.

But with the answer to #1 not adding to what's already on the public record, the most interesting part of Nash's questionnaire response may be her take on question #3. While I wonder whether the praise Nash has received on the policy front might position her well, she's expressed a clear interest in focusing on finance and the economy in her previous role as finance critic - and I'd imagine the other leadership candidates will take note.

Sunday Morning Links

Random readings to occupy your time.

- Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor are still digging into Robocon - with a focus on figuring out exactly how "Pierre Poutine" assembled lists of anti-Con voters to target. And Sixth Estate both points out that the count of affected ridings is up to 92, and questions why the Cons are apparently gathering and then covering up evidence of their own election fraud until they can choose how to leak it for minimal effect.

- The Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy has released a few updates to its Saskatchewan Election Study - with a particularly interesting bit of research finding that even Saskatchewan Party voters largely agree with the province's social-democratic values.

- And in EKOS' national-level values polling, Frank Graves rightly notes that it's the NDP which figures to serve as an effective counterweight to the Cons when it comes to an increasingly stark contrast in values.

- Meanwhile, QMI spin aside, Leger Marketing's polling shows a striking lack of satisfaction with the results of the last ten years both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. And given that the Harper Cons don't have any plan to offer anything but a more extreme version of the same, that suggests a message of change should have plenty of resonance across Canada.

- Finally, the latest issue of Policy Options features issue pieces from Brian Topp on economic policy and Thomas Mulcair on the tar sands (and yes, he duly mocks the Cons' effort to dictate how they're labeled).