Sunday, August 20, 2017

On closing questions

Thus far in my posts about the federal NDP leadership campaign, I haven't said much about my own preferences as between the candidates. And there's a reason why I haven't been pushing for any particular outcome just yet, as I'm still far from sure who I'll place in each position on my own ballot.

But for those who are likewise undecided, I'll offer my take on what I'll be looking for from each candidate from here on in - particularly in the last two debates which give us the best indication of the contenders' judgment under pressure as the campaign reaches its end.

Charlie Angus

One of the key themes of Jack Layton's success as the NDP's leader was that the lifetime of work he did in support of progressive causes earned him some leeway in making choices which might otherwise have been seen as controversial. And Angus' recent run of endorsements seems to suggest he enjoys much the same advantage. 

But Layton also succeeded in large part due to his work in reaching out to his caucus as well as to supportive groups. And while the leadership campaign is obviously a different context than the actual management of a caucus, Angus has presented himself as being relatively oppositional in his approach to his fellow leadership contestants.

I'll thus be interested to see if Angus is willing and able to pivot toward engaging with his competitors in a way which seems more consistent with being part of the same team once the campaign ends. And a failure to do so may be particularly problematic if he isn't able to move the needle any further in terms of caucus endorsements.

Niki Ashton

From the beginning, Ashton has been highly strategic in her approach to debates, taking many opportunities to put other candidates on the defensive. But possibly in order to minimize the risk of the same happening to herself, she's often defaulted to her talking points rather than seeming to engage with some of the questions directed toward here - even when they're at best tangentially related to the subject at hand.

To her credit, Ashton has released an extremely thorough and thoughtful set of policy proposals. But she hasn't yet changed her approach to the leadership debates, even when they delve into subjects areas where she's released detailed plans.

With that in mind, I'll be looking for Ashton to show some more willingness to get into the weeds as to policy details and analysis - with the ultimate purpose of testing her ability to explain and pitch the ideas her campaign has developed.

Guy Caron

Throughout the leadership debates so far, Caron has consistently demonstrated a superior combination of policy knowledge and good humour.

But his message has sometimes been lost in the delivery - sometimes as a product of his accent when speaking English, other times merely as a matter of timing and speaking style. And a relatively low-resource campaign - like a party facing a fund-raising disadvantage - needs to be able to make its strongest messages stick.

The upcoming Montreal debate represents Caron's chance to show that his strongest lines can land with a bit more punch in French than in English. And it's worth keeping an eye out as to whether his communication can be as sharp as his message from here on in.

Jagmeet Singh

Finally, after entering the campaign projecting a front-runner message, Singh has done extremely well in defending himself from the questions which inevitably come with that status. As a result, members shouldn't have any question about his ability to hold his ground.

What's still somewhat uncertain, however, is Singh's willingness to anchor his plans for growth in the values and policies of the NDP. And particularly given the likelihood that the campaign is headed for multiple ballots, Singh may need to reassure undecided members as to how their well-established priorities fit within his proposed movement.

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