Sunday, August 28, 2011

Leadership 2012: Preliminary Candidate List

Having posted about the target groups and issues for the NDP's leadership campaign, let's take the next step and put some names to the possibilities. As hinted at in my last post, I'd see the ideal field as involving enough candidates to cover effectively all of the party's actual and potential bases - which will likely involve at least 4-5 strong contenders with complementary areas of strength. But who might be able to take on those roles?

Here's an initial list of 20 possible candidates who might fit into one of the top four or five slots in the race such as to have a plausible path to victory. And if anybody has strong opinions about additional names to add, I'll be happy to include them.

Thomas Mulcair

The obvious front-runner, and one of the few candidates who might be able to plan two radically different paths to victory. If anybody can run away with the leadership race, it's Mulcair with the prospect of selling memberships in Quebec to match the NDP's increase in votes and seats. But even if Mulcair can't manage that, he'll still have a strong chance to win support from the NDP's current membership as a highly-qualified and well-recognized advocate for the party (particularly on economic issues).
Target groups: Quebeckers, professional voters
Signature issues: Economic development, environment

Brian Topp

I'll list him here based on the multiple media declarations that he's the second and last top-tier candidate - though I'm not sure (despite his increasingly frequent forays into the public eye over the past few years) that he actually figures to rank ahead of a number of the candidates discussed below. That said, Topp is well identified with Jack Layton's plans for the NDP and is well known at least within the party - meaning that the main question for his candidacy would be whether his organization acumen could translate into new memberships.
Target groups: Quebeckers, labour
Signature issues: Good government

Olivia Chow

To the best of my knowledge, anybody applying a filter based on fluency in French will need to strike Chow among others off this list. But I'm far from sure that Chow's combination of personal strength and identification with Jack Layton's mission can't overcome that obstacle over the course of a leadership race - particularly given her potential to emerge as the leadership campaign's voice for women, urban members and new Canadians alike.
Target groups: Professionals, ethnic communities
Issues: Immigration, women's issues

Charlie Angus

Likewise, a language filter would drop Angus from the list. But he looks to offer a unique combination of rural and populist appeal alongside traits that will appeal to a range of urban members (particularly his arts/heritage background and his strong work on copyright and technological issues) - making him the rural candidate with the most plausible path to victory if he runs.
Target groups: Rural voters, young voters
Issues: Good government, arts & culture

Megan Leslie

On paper, Leslie's mix of issue work over her few years in Parliament and her previous stint as an activist would probably be the ideal background for an NDP leadership candidate. And while she'd have some work to do in building a national profile, she has a track record of emerging victorious even when another candidate starts out with the title of "heir apparent".
Target groups: Young voters, professionals
Issues: Poverty/inequality, health care, environment

Peter Julian

Rightly recognized by most reports so far as a strong candidate, Julian would combine bilingualism and Quebec organizing experience with a strong populist economic message and a history of success in a strongly multicultural riding. And if the corporate media kicks and screams through every minute of Julian's critique of inequality, then so much the better.
Target groups: Ethnic communities, labour
Issues: Economic development, poverty/inequality

Francoise Boivin

A highly visible and experienced Quebec MP in a field which could use at least a few choices fitting that description. The downside for Boivin is that she'd all too likely be an afterthought as long as Mulcair doesn't generate backlash - but if the front-runner were to falter, Boivin could be nicely positioned to collect his expected supporters.
Target groups: Quebeckers, professionals
Issues: Women's issues, human rights

Paul Dewar

He's often been mentioned as a future leadership contender thanks to his profile developed as the NDP's chief foreign policy spokesperson, but has somehow been a frequent omission from the media's lists over the past week. A safe, polished political veteran who could easily emerge as a compromise choice - but it's an open question as to whether he'll have the activist base needed to stay on the ballot to make that happen.
Target groups: Labour, professional voters
Signature issues: Human rights, good government

Romeo Saganash

Another of the NDP's star Quebec MPs with plenty of experience as a national-scale leader. But while Saganash has impressed plenty of members since his election, he was a very late addition to the NDP's roster of candidates - and so has a long way to go in building connections and support within the party.
Target groups: Rural voters, First Nations
Signature issues: Human rights, poverty/inequality, good government

Peggy Nash

A highly visible and experienced national labour leader with a strong base in the GTA. But there would be plenty of overlap between her constituency and Chow's, meaning that a successful Nash run would likely be predicated on Chow taking a pass.
Target groups: Labour
Signature issues: Economy, women's issues

Niki Ashton

The most plausible candidate from the Prairies thanks to her electoral success in rural Manitoba. But her chances in a leadership campaign may be based largely on what she's done since the May election: having served as a mentor to the NDP's Quebec neophytes as to how to succeed as a young MP, she'd need to incorporate them into her coalition to build a winning campaign on a rural base.
Target groups: Rural voters, young voters
Signature issues: Women's issues

Libby Davies

Davies could count on plenty of name recognition and activist support due to her longtime work on poverty and inequality issues as well as her role as the NDP's deputy leader. But however irrationally, her name has already come to be used as an insult to the NDP by the corporate media - and the work Davies would need to do to counter that existing negative impression would distract from some of the good that can come out of the leadership race.
Target groups: Labour, professionals
Signature issues: Poverty/inequality, human rights

Nathan Cullen

Another candidate with strong rural roots, including a particular reputation for turning the environment into a winning issue among non-traditional voters. But it's not clear that he'll want to run, and any delay in entering the race could see his window for growth close quickly.
Target groups: Rural voters
Signature issues: Environment, economic development

Don Davies

The current critic for citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, effectively making him the NDP's answer to Jason Kenney in seeking to engage with ethnic communities. But it's an open question whether he's been in the role long enough to translate that work into leadership support.
Target groups: Ethnic communities, professionals
Signature issues: Immigration, human rights

Naomi Klein

For all the talk about MPs past and present, the NDP has never before run a leadership race while in its current Official Opposition role. And its growth into a party recognized as the leading contender for government might be the perfect opening for a prominent name associated with movement-building rather than party politics to make the jump - with Klein and Maude Barlow looming as the two obvious possibilities on that front.
Target groups: Young voters
Signature issues: Economic development, poverty/inequality, human rights

Robert Chisholm

The lone candidate who could bring direct experience as a party leader to the table - and his recent work on international trade would be a bonus. But the combination of his being unilingual and lacking much of a geographical base outside his home province would make for a long road to victory.
Target groups: Labour, professionals
Signature issues: Good government, economic development

Hoang Mai

I'm presuming none of the NDP's very youngest Quebec MPs will throw a hat into the ring. But Mai could make a dent in the leadership race by serving as the face of the movement while offering economic and international credentials which can win support in the wider party.
Target groups: Quebeckers, young voters, ethnic communities
Signature issues: Human rights, economic development

Linda Duncan

Nobody can dispute Duncan's bravery and political effectiveness in winning two consecutive elections in her home province's sea of blue. And she brings more environmental credentials to the table than all but a tiny handful of Canadian politicians. But while it would be a plus to see a candidate focusing primarily on growing the NDP in Alberta, I'm not sure that strategy would provide any realistic prospect of success in the leadership race.
Target groups: Professionals
Signature issues: Environment, women's issues

Joe Comartin

Often mentioned as a possible candidate based on his 2003 leadership run. But Comartin finished a distant fourth even in a far weaker field than we should expect this time out. And while he's served as a highly distinguished MP since then, it's hard to see what support base would have emerged to propel Comartin into contention.
Target groups: Professionals
Signature issues: Justice, human rights

Pierre Ducasse

Meanwhile, if anybody is looking for a 2003 leadership candidate to take another shot, how about the first face of Layton's efforts to build the NDP in Quebec? Ducasse has stayed active politically despite not running in this year's federal election, and his organizational work in multiple regions of Quebec could give him a fighting chance.
Target groups: Quebeckers, rural voters
Signature issues: Poverty/inequality, human rights

Update: For further discussion, Babble unsurprisingly has a thread already started. Update II: Continued. Update III: And again. Update IV: here.


  1. Anonymous12:45 p.m.

    Is language really an issue for Charlie Angus?

    I mean...I could understand if he didn't appeal to the majority of Canadians or something his french that bad?

  2. What about Stephen Lewis?

  3. jurist3:21 p.m.

    I've seen some (somewhat dated) reference to his effectively starting from scratch - I can't say how current that is, but would have to figure his command of French won't be an area of strength.

  4. jurist3:28 p.m.

    No doubt he'd bring a huge profile based on exactly the kind of optimism and principle Layton exemplified, together with all kinds of leadership and oratory skills if he chose to run. The issues would be whether he'd want to run at this stage of his career, and whether his age might be a problem when he'd be four years away from running an election campaign and potentially taking over as PM.

  5. Malcolm+3:32 p.m.

    Couple of observations.

    Robert Chisolm not only has experience as a party leader, he has experience in one area the federal NDP desperately needs - consolidating a sudden increase in party support.  I'm told he does speak French, but I'm not sure of the quality.

    Niki Ashton was not given any critic role this time out.  Instead, she was given the arguably more important responsibility of being the big sister to the very young NDP MPs from Quebec.

    Some have knocked Mulcair for his alleged temper.  We should remember that his role in Quebec was to be the bad cop to Layton's good cop.  My greater concern with Mulcair is his complete lack of base d'hors le Quebec.

    The other night, as we honoured Layton, someone suggested that our next leader should be under 40.  I said (and still think) that isn't necessarily a requirement, but that I would hope the new leader would be younger than me.  Last night I discovered that Brian Topp is 27 days younger than me.

  6. jurist4:45 p.m.

    Agreed that Chisholm's experience in consolidating support should be a huge help for the next leader. But I'm not sure it couldn't be equally valuable in advising another leader besides Chisholm himself. 

    As for Mulcair, I'll second the view that while he's played the role assigned to him within the party, that background doesn't mean his public image (which already exists mostly in the minds of a few commentators) is forever set in stone. And I haven't seen much indication that he'll have trouble winning support outside Quebec.

  7. Idealistic Pragmatist6:46 a.m.

    Greg, I have to say, I couldn't disagree with you more about the French issue. Even if we put the NDP's responsibility to Quebec at this point in its history aside (and that's nothing to sneeze at), it's absolutely essential that the Leader of the Opposition be able to hold his or her own–with no stumbling–in both official languages, and that effectively counts out several of the people you're talking about here (I mean, I learned a language from scratch in a year and a half, but a) I'm a linguist, b) I wasn't busy running a gruelling leadership race at the time, and c) I'm honestly not sure I could win a political debate in that language, even today, and d) I had a year and a half, not five months.). I am really, really surprised to see you play down the role of facility in both official languages here. That simply doesn't reflect the reality of the job these people would be applying for.

  8. Pundits' Guide8:01 a.m.

    I believe I've heard him ask questions in french in the House. It might be worth reviewing the tape.

  9. Does David Miller's name belong on this list? I'm not sure who his French is (although I've heard he's been trying to learn), but I think he would have a legitimate shot at it.

  10. <span>Does David Miller's name belong on this list? I'm not sure how his French is (although I've heard he's been trying to learn), but I think he would have a legitimate shot at it.</span>

  11. jurist8:40 a.m.

    To clarify, I'd think that fluency in French by the 2015 election campaign is a necessary part of the leader's job description. But that, and not the January leadership convention, is the timeline I'd have in mind - and I wouldn't think it's out of the question that a currently-unilingual candidate could build in two years of private study and a year and a half of polishing up the language in public while articulating a strong enough message and vision to win over a majority of voting members.

  12. jurist8:42 a.m.

    And for that matter, I'm not sure that a new leader working hard to learn French and exceeding expectations by the time an election rolls around wouldn't be an effective continuation of the "building bridges to Quebec" narrative.

  13. jurist8:44 a.m.

    I'd classify him as another candidate who might have a chance as Toronto's standard-bearer if Chow chooses not to run - but I'd see him facing a bit more resistance than Nash given his choice not to renew his membership while serving as mayor.

  14. Idealistic Pragmatist8:55 a.m.

    Sorry, I just don't buy it. People have different levels of talent for language, and if you're starting from scratch (or near-scratch) now, you simply don't know yet whether you'll have the necessary fluency by 2015. Not to mention the fact that there will certainly be leadership debates held in Quebec, in French, and are unilingual anglophone candidates supposed to just bow out of those debates? Electing a unilingual leader would be such a huge mistake. I'd even go so far as to say that fluency in both languages is too low a bar; we should be looking for people who are eloquent in both languages.

  15. Idealistic Pragmatist8:56 a.m.

    I also stand by my earlier point that full bilingualism is essential not just for taking on an eventual job of prime minister, but also for serving as the leader of the Official Opposition. Which is a job the person would have to take on well before 2015.

  16. Anonymous10:29 a.m.

    I'm hoping Rathika runs. She's charismatic, journalists love her a rare trait for a newdemocrat, strong support in ethnic communities, she has reached out beyond her riding to help other people, including trips around the country to visit people in her role as Post Secondary Education critic, she would have strong appeal to urban voters in the GTA, Students and youth in general, she understands women's issues, according to one article she is a good organizer, her father lived in Quebec City at one time, she has labour connections. I don't know if she speaks french or not, still even if she didn't win, I believe it would be good for the party if she ran, she'd be a good choice to add to your list.

    BTW My worry about Chow running is that if she does most other qualified candiates wont, which means it could be a race with far fewer choices, maybe even Chow, Topp, and Mulcair or even Mulcair, Chow.

  17. Sorry, but...10:33 a.m.

    Disagree that French isn't needed.  If by "language filter" you're equating the necessity of the bilingualism of the PM or OLO to "language police" or "language bias", then I couldn't disagree more.

    Ability to communicate in French and English is vital and that makes much of this list completely irrelevant.

  18. Sorry, but...10:33 a.m.

    Disagree that French isn't needed.  If by "language filter" you're equating the necessity of the bilingualism of the PM or OLO to "language police" or "language bias", then I couldn't disagree more.

    Ability to communicate in French and English is vital and that makes much of this list completely irrelevant.

  19. I completely agree with regards to Rathika. I'd love to see her run to build her profile. She is someone with the characteristics to lead this party in the future. Someone to keep an eye on. Obviously, I wouldn't expect her candidacy to find any traction this time, but she is one of the faces of the future of the party.

  20. Agreed that Rathika should be a major part of the NDP's future. For this race I'd guess that's more likely to play out in terms of her being a key organizer for another candidate rather than running herself - and given her success organizing for the general election, I'd fully expect her to be in great demand among those who do run (and potentially to boost her longer-term profile that way).

    As for Guest's additional comment about Chow, I wouldn't think that her running should prevent most of the possibilities from jumping into the race. Again there are loads of paths to victory, and I can't see how Chow running would limit the growth potential of any other candidate - with the exception of those also focused in the GTA.

  21. By "language filter" i mean "language filter", since people are making the case that candidates should be filtered out at the outset of the race based on language. But thanks for casting the discussion in far more extreme terms in order to try to dismiss it.

  22. I won't dispute for a second that unilingual candidates will be at a disadvantage in debates during the course of the leadership campaign. But that loops back around to the question of whether we should try to rule out anybody who might have a chance of winning over party members anyway - and I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

    As for the role of leader of the opposition in advance of the next election, I'd think that carries two main roles: that of chief strategist and decision-maker, and that of chief spokesperson for the party. And while the former job might be more complicated by temporary weaknesses in the latter, I wouldn't see it as a problem that can't be managed in the interim - with the side benefit of giving more media profile to the NDP's Quebec MPs to answer questions in the meantime.

  23. daveberta3:24 p.m.

    I'm surprised to see Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson not on this list. A moderate New Democrat from Western Canada with Executive Governance experience at a big city level could carry a lot of weight on the federal stage (I am not sure if he is bilingual though).

    I read on twitter today that his campaign said that he is committed to running for re-election in Vancouver in November, but that doesn't mean he can't be pursuaded. Thoughts?

  24. Sorry, but...10:15 p.m.

    <span>since people are making the case that candidates should be filtered out at the outset of the race based on language</span>

    Couldn't agree more; candidates who are not fluent shouldn't count.  It's not exactly news that you're expected to speak French and English - by preparing to fail, you are preparing to fail.

    Again, feels like you're dismissing the need for bilingualism in power as an arbitrarily "language filter"; I don't feel it's abritary, I think it's pretty clearcut: Can't comunicate effectively in both languages = Waste of time.  Considering federal leadership of a bilingual federation but haven't invested any effort into the joy and fun and culture of another language?  Yeah, right.  

  25. Malcolm+10:56 p.m.

    Any politician who aspires to federal party leadership has been working on their French for a while - unless they're completely stupid and then why would we want them.  I suppose there may be some who were expecting to be a little farther along in their language training before a leadership race, but even so, they should have been working on the possibility of a 2012 race anyway.

  26. jurist9:29 a.m.

    He'd make for another intriguing outside possibility - potentially combining a strong Vancouver base with a message combining economic development with environmental responsibility. Though the issue overlap with Mulcair might be an issue given his lower national profile to start.

  27. jurist9:31 a.m.

    Again, I draw a strong distinction between someone who doesn't have any interest in becoming bilingual and one who isn't there yet, but is willing and able to work to get there. And my concern is with the position that we should simply ignore the potential for growth on that issue alone when it's inevitable that any leader will have to develop in the role.

  28. jurist9:37 a.m.

    A fair point, but then we still have to ask what the minimum standard is for leadership hopefuls who are "working on" developing fluency (and indeed eloquence) in French but not there yet. And I'm still not convinced we should rule out a candidate who's getting there.

  29. NicholasCanada1:24 p.m.

    You forgot Pat Martin. 

  30. Anonymous2:58 p.m.

    Nice to see you put Hoang Mai on the list. However despite his youngish appearance, he is in fact 38 years old.

  31. JackieNo54:03 p.m.

    The list is too long. It doesn't make sense.

  32. jurist5:20 p.m.

    The goal isn't to describe the ultimate field, only to identify some of the candidates who might form part of it. (And I've seen enough additional possibilities that I'll be following up with another set.)

  33. jurist5:21 p.m.

    Understood - which is why I'd see him serving as a viable face of the Quebec youth movement without carrying the label of being inexperienced.

  34. jurist5:21 p.m.

    Didn't forget him, but I just don't see where his support base would come for a run.

  35. jurist5:37 p.m.

    (Though his musings today about running as a pro-merger candidate could give him at least somewhat more of a hook than he figured to have otherwise.)

  36. Anonymous9:01 p.m.

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