Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leadership 2017 Candidate Profile: Peter Julian

I'll start my series of NDP leadership candidate profiles with the first to enter the leadership race - and the one who's likely done the most to shape the campaign so far.

I've noted before my surprise at the choices made so far by Peter Julian's campaign: a candidate who could have portrayed himself as the safest of consensus choices has instead generated a great deal of polarization. But Julian nonetheless looks to be an extremely strong contender.


Again, the primary advantage held by Julian is his experience as an NDP activist and organizer, and it's showing so far in the campaign. He's been ahead of the field from day one in putting his infrastructure in place and winning caucus endorsements, and his diverse experience in Parliament and elsewhere makes him comfortable talking about nearly any issue.

Beyond that, there are advantages to being seen taking the strongest position in the campaign on the hot-button issue of pipelines. In addition to giving Julian a ready applause line, that choice also makes him a natural beneficiary of an already-energized group of activists both inside and outside the party. 


At the start of the campaign, I'd have expected Julian's largest concern to be whether he could speak powerfully enough on the stump and in debates to win first-choice support from members with plenty of options.

Having chosen to sidestep that potential issue through sharp issue messaging, Julian instead faces the challenge of defending himself from fossil-fueled vitriol now that he's become a lightning rod for criticism of any strong environmental policy. If Julian can hold up under those circumstances, he could position himself ideally to take the same message forward as the NDP's leader - but he'll face a lot more direct attacks now than he might have otherwise.

Key Indicators

The key indicators for Julian will then be second-choice support and negative perceptions. I'd fully expect Julian to rank at the top of many ballots, but a first-ballot win is likely not within reach - meaning that he needs to leave himself some room to add votes as other candidates are eliminated.

Key Opponent

To the extent Julian's campaign may turn on pipelines, Charlie Angus is currently positioned as the most distinct voice for facilitating (if not outright supporting) pipeline development. And Angus' handling of the issue could well turn the race in either direction.

If Angus decides he too can win first-choice support by firming up his own position contrary to Julian, the result may be to push perceptions further against Julian than he can afford, particularly if the position is echoed enough from outside the party. But it's also possible that strategy could set up a ballot question where Julian would pick up exactly the later-ballot boost he needs from Guy Caron and Niki Ashton supporters.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: First-place showing on the first ballot based on environmental and institutional support, followed by a relatively quick win
Worst-case: Moderate placement on the first ballot followed by little subsequent growth

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