Thursday, December 22, 2011

On growth strategies

Plenty of commentators have piled on Ian Capstick in the wake of his musings about the number of candidates in the NDP's leadership race. And I won't belabour the same point others have already made in refuting speculation about particular candidates dropping out.

But there's another part of Capstick's analysis that I'd think deserves a bit more of a challenge:
Capstick: “I can only hope that this bout of common sense is contagious and that we can slim down the field to a little bit more manageable number. [Ed: With Chisholm gone, eight are still vying for the job] I don’t think that Niki Ashton can go toe-to-toe with the prime minister. I don’t think that Romeo Saganash is somebody who can go toe-to-toe with the PM.
Now, the above passage is obviously a matter of opinion rather than a declaration of fact as to the prospects of Ashton or Saganash in serving as the NDP's leader. But I'll argue that it somewhat misses the point as to what NDP members should be seeking in the leadership race.

After all, none of the leadership contenders currently have anywhere near the national profile to go "toe-to-toe" with Stephen Harper in an election campaign if one were called for April 2012. And that's not a matter of personal weakness or failure: instead, it's inevitable as a contrast between a prime minister whose public image has been crafted by a decade's worth of headlines, advertising and careful image-building, and a challenger who hasn't yet been on the receiving end of the same level of attention.

And that's as much the case for the perceived upper-tier candidates as for, say, Ashton and Saganash. Thomas Mulcair is the only arguable exception to the extent he might qualify as a popular household name in Quebec - but for all but one candidate in one province, a leadership win will only be the start of building a personal profile to compete with Harper's.

Which is exactly why my focus in the leadership campaign is less on the profile any given candidate has enjoyed from day one, and more as to how effective the candidate proves in building on that base. Ultimately, the question of whether an NDP leadership candidate can go toe to toe with Harper by 2015 depends more than anything on the candidate's capacity and plan for growth - and the thinner and less diverse the field, the less likely we'll be to take our opportunities to expand beyond what might seem within easy reach at the moment.

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