Sunday, October 11, 2015

On continuing leadership

Others have responded to Chantal Hebert's latest by pointing out her past track record of telling the NDP when to change leaders. But even leaving that history aside, it's worth seriously questioning her assumptions.

To start with, I'm rather less certain than Hebert that even Stephen Harper will be out of the picture altogether by the next federal election, if only due to his suppression of any viable successors within his own party.

Given enough time (a majority or stable minority arrangement), a resignation and leadership race would be a logical course of action for the Cons. But if another election looks plausible in the near future, I wouldn't expect either Harper to step down willingly, or his party to assemble any movement to oust him. And in the event of an election either during a leadership campaign or after a new leader has flopped, Harper has made sure he's effectively the only person the Cons could ask to step in on short notice.

More importantly for my purposes, though, Hebert looks to be far off base in trying to guess what the NDP's priorities will be.

Once again, the most likely range of outcomes on election day involves a minority Parliament - meaning both that experience and readiness will be at a premium in navigating difficult political negotiations, and that another election will loom in the near future. And neither of those realities would point toward the knee-jerk disposal of a popular, respected leader who's just led the NDP to its second-best seat count ever.

And weighed against those reasons for the NDP to encourage Mulcair to stay on is...what, exactly?

Mulcair's leadership runner-up relied on a core group of supporters who have since been brought back into the fold to run the current campaign. So there's little reason or basis for them to back a challenge based on any perceived missed opportunity. And there's been no indication of hard feelings within the NDP caucus or among its past leadership contenders that would leave anybody eager for a fight.

As a result, any ouster would have to result from an insurgent campaign drawing almost entirely on people outside of the NDP's caucus and party apparatus. But a minority Parliament would offer a chance for Mulcair to push the key policies which most motivate the NDP's grassroots as the price of support. And whether he manages to bring those policies into effect or highlights the fact that it's other parties who are blocking them, there wouldn't be a great deal of motivation to criticize him so long as Mulcair sticks to his longtime practice of generally (if not invariably) following the path previously set by the party's membership.

That leaves the possibility of Mulcair stepping down by choice. But here, let's look again at Mulcair's choices in joining and leading the NDP.

In 2007, Mulcair chose to run for a party in fourth place nationally with no seats in Quebec, and whose main asset was its popular leader who expected and hoped to be around for some time to come. If anybody had told Mulcair he'd be a respected national leader contending for power in a three-party race in 2015 only to (as so many people have phrased it) peak at the wrong time, would that have been seen as grounds for abandoning ship?

Moreover, the NDP's path toward government was never without some hiccups. The 2008 election most certainly didn't achieve all the NDP hoped, and the nomination window for 2011 saw the party fall to the low teens at a point when there was an opportunity to bail out.

Through those far more difficult times, Mulcair and the rest of the party kept fighting - the party winning Official Opposition status in 2011, Mulcair winning the leadership in 2012, and both subsequently reaching heights never before achieved.

Of course, if the party can't scale those heights again in this campaign, it will represent at least somewhat of a disappointment based on short-term expectations. But that represents reason to determine how to do better - not to follow the Libs' destructive course of perpetually sacking leaders and trashing institutional memory, only to make the same mistakes over and over again as a result.

While the pundit class may lack an attention span beyond the narrative of the day, I'd anticipate more perspective from Mulcair and the NDP alike. And so I'd hope and expect that we'll see Mulcair lead the NDP into the future.


  1. Sub-Boreal1:11 p.m.


    While your optimism and long view of things are always welcome, I think you're letting the NDP's leadership and senior organizers off the hook, despite their - dare I call it - sheer incompetence.

    Sure, there will always be grousing from the membership and the wider circle of non-member supporters. But, dammit, we're getting tired of having our volunteer time and dollars pissed away by the pros who are supposed to know what they're doing.

    Of course, all parties have their retinues of hacks. But the empirical evidence suggests that the NDP doesn't seem to have very good ones. I'm basing that on the steady accumulation of crappy results (e.g. Nova Scotia, Chow for mayor of T.O., Manitoba's unique approach to political self-destruction, the 2013 BC campaign that was so incompetent that it spawned durable Internet conspiracy theories, the too-clever-by-half Ontario campaign that let the Liberals' faux leftism outflank the NDP.). Occasional fortunate alignments of the stars (Quebec in 2011, Alberta in 2015) have happened just often enough that there's never been any real accountability or examination of the party's internal weaknesses.

    It's one thing to point out how the Liberals' consistent faux leftism during campaigns transmutes into neoliberal orthodoxy in government. But then to have the NDP's strategists unerringly set themselves up to make this work yet again, is pretty hard to stomach.

    As for "generally (if not invariably) following the path previously set by the party's membership", you're again letting people off the hook. On the fundamental matter of income tax policy, who decided, and when, that the NDP was going to rule out tax increases for high earners? Nobody asked me, nor anyone else that I know in the party. (Linda McQuaig will likely need a prosthetic tongue pretty soon after needing to bite her real one for several months.)

    1. On the narrow issue of high-end incomes, I'd note there's no change in the NDP's platform from last election to this one. The difference is the Libs changing *their* position, and declaring as they typically do that the only valid test for progressivity is the only one they meet.

      As for the effectiveness of the NDP's core campaign team, I see far more room for leeway than you do. Just going down the list, Nova Scotia would never have been a disappointment if not for the previous breakthrough, Chow's campaign seems to have failed in no small part because of mismanagement from people outside the NDP family, Manitoba involves a government holding onto power longer than would likely have been expected, and even Ontario can best be seen as a reasonable plan which didn't work out entirely as hoped.

      Which leads to what seems to be the big difference between my take and yours. I think there's room to make the case that reasonable processes sometimes lead to less than the results we'd hoped for - which I think is a fair interpretation of the current NDP model as applied this year. And while I agree there's a need for accountability and reassessment to make sure the party gets future choices right, I don't think that necessarily means just turfing the leader and campaign team without much idea who could do better or how.