Sunday, September 17, 2017

Leadership 2017: The Ballot

Despite the federal NDP's candidate showcase there hasn't been much change since last week's rankings - and so I won't update those for this week. Rather than ranking the candidates based on their perceived likelihood of winning, I'll instead take the opportunity to offer my own endorsement and ballot ranking, along with some explanation as to how I've made my own choice among four strong candidates. (For further reading, Alice Funke offers a must-read summary as to the array of expectations and responsibilities for the NDP's leader.)

1. Guy Caron

The key for Caron has been to establish that he could demonstrate the capacity to grow in a campaign with relatively limited resources. And in the end, he's done just that - offering strong and popular individual policies within an effective philosophical framework, and managing to win over a far larger number of supporters on sheer personal appeal than I'd have anticipated.

The most important sticking point for me with Caron is then his tendency to put process and jurisdiction ahead of underlying values at times. That's been most obvious in his take on Quebec's Bill 62, where I'll note that he may be best served taking a lesson from Thomas Mulcair's response focusing on fundamental values rather than political calculations. And it's also been notable at other times when he's demurred on ambitious social policy proposals by pointing to jurisdictional questions.

But on the balance, Caron looks to have the best prospect of winning Canadians over to a progressive vision - just as he's won over supporters throughout the leadership campaign.

2. Jagmeet Singh

Singh too has done a highly effective job of situating worthwhile policy proposals within a framework of well-defined values. The primary factor placing him behind Caron is that those values don't overlap with the ones I'd like to see promoted to quite the same extent: on one set of key economic issues in particular, Singh has gone out of his way to express principles which are both contrary to NDP policy, and problematic from the standpoint of winning voters over to a coherent progressive philosophy.

That said, Singh's showcase today suggests that he's both tightening up his economic message, and making strides in tying it to his personal experience. And the areas of concern within the leadership race should be ones where he'll have reason to be on the proper side of any debate across party lines.  

Moreover, Singh has lived up to his own "love and courage" theme with strongly principled stances in other areas where I'd have expected him to play it safer. And that offers me enough comfort on policy to place him second in light of his success in building an organization and appealing to the public.

3. Niki Ashton

Ashton's deeply progressive platform and strategy based on the successful movement-building exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders hold a great deal of appeal to me. And today's presentation was likely her strongest in putting those together. But Ashton ranks below the top of my ballot because of some uncertainty about her ability to execute that strategy.

While Corbyn was eventually able to build up his UK Labour party despite a combination of internal grumbling and a dismissive press, he's done so based in large part on the demonstrable strength and breadth of the movement behind him. Corbyn only won the opportunity to face the general electorate by twice winning the support of a strong majority of his party's members - and it's the endurance of his personal support among members that's allowed him to withstand storms both internal and external.

Based on how the media has treated her throughout the leadership campaign, Ashton stands to match Corbyn's status as a lightning rod for press attacks. But she hasn't yet shown much of a movement behind her to answer issues as they've arisen. And so Ashton's most plausible path to victory looks to represent a potentially dangerous outcome for the NDP as a whole: the most difficult road for the party may involve a multi-ballot vote in which Ashton narrowly noses ahead despite modest enthusiasm, then has to face an onslaught of media criticism with relatively little internal support.

4. Charlie Angus

Finally, Angus finishes fourth on my ballot based on a leadership campaign which hasn't lived up to either Angus' potential or his competitors' choices in terms of either policy development or progressive values.

To be sure, Angus has been able to secure the endorsement of plenty of prominent voices who are willing to trust him. But I have to wonder whether the relatively unfocused populism he's relied on during the leadership race will be ameliorated - or produce better results - against the NDP's competition. And if not, then Angus poses the risk of losing ground in terms of both party results and issue advocacy.

Again, that's not to say Angus wouldn't have a strong opportunity to succeed as the NDP's next leader. But it does mean he falls behind his fellow candidates on that score - and thus to the bottom of my ballot.

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