While not as “campy” in terms of divisive camps of supporters, the federal NDP Leadership Convention held in Toronto was certainly campy in terms of parading good-spirited delegates, minus the long voting delays.
The convention began Friday, March 23, with afternoon presentations by all seven leadership candidates. BC MP Nathan Cullen began with an informal speech without teleprompter, focusing on the strengths of his campaign, including his idea on working with the Liberal Party in the next election to decide to run the candidate between the two parties who had the greatest chance to beat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
Next up was Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, former Foreign Affairs Critic for the NDP. Fighting a great deal of criticism for his poor French, Dewar peppered his speech with a great deal of French that still was behind many of his fellow candidates.
Former NDP Party President and strategist Brian Topp presented next. The only candidate without a seat in the House of Commons, Topp received a number of endorsements from prominent NDP members, including former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, Former leader Ed Broadbent, and actress Shirley Douglas, daughter of party founder Tommy Douglas.
The youngest candidate, northern Manitoba MP Nikki Ashton was next, delivering a strong speech about her work to represent the “Jack Layton Generation” of young voters. Ashton also threw in a line of support for Quebec students resisting the province’s tuition hikes, and showed off her fluency for –five- languages including English, Greek, and French.
Quebec Deputy and former Liberal MNA Thomas Mulcair was next up to speak. The clear frontrunner of the race, Mulcair had amassed support from the majority of Quebec’s 59 newly-minted NDP MPs. Mulcair chose a slow parade through the convention floor up to the podium to speak, led by a contingent of drummers rumoured to be from Cirque du Soleil.
Toronto MP Peggy Nash was the penultimate presenter, focusing on her work as a negotiator alongside a number of endorsements from Toronto city councilors, and union leaders. Nash also received the support of the former NDP Leader Alexa McDonough. Nash’s final words and teleprompted speech was noticeably cut off however for going over the 20 minute time limit.
The final presenter was Nova Scotia MP Martin Singh. Singh opened his presentation with his son playing a traditional fiddle song from the province, and introducing delegates to his life and campaign through an animated video, followed by a traditional speech. The presentation explored the underdog’s roots in Nova Scotia, his plan for a national pharmacare strategy, and his move to Sikhism.
Tribute to Layton
The evening following the candidate presentations opened with a tribute to Jack Layton, the former party leader who passed away in August from cancer. Delegates entering the room were given white shirts imprinted in orange with the message “I am the Layton legacy.” Screens across the stage of the convention center focused on a chalkboard backdrop filled with messages of thanks and love for the former NDP leader. On stage an artist did a charcoal sketch of the leader while video clips, interviews and speeches proceeded.
The event featured a number of prominent people both in Layton’s own life, as well as political figures in Canada. One video showed reflections on Layton’s work, featuring former prime ministers Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney, and Paul Martin.
Assemby of First Nations Grand Chief Sean Atleo came on stage and made a speech about the commitment Layton had for First Nations peoples in Canada.
Many convention goers grew misty-eyed as Layton’s children were featured in a video clip along with their father. Layton’s son Mike Layton, and daughter Sarah Campbell came out on stage to talk about how while their father was often seen talking in his political life, he had great power as a listener and cared a lot for his family and his granddaughter, Beatrice.
Layton’s widow, Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow also came on stage to speak about the work of her late husband. Chow’s message was that of hope and optimism for the future, following the tone of much of the tribute.
It took four rounds of voting for new party leader and Official Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair to declare victory. Members were able to vote in advance, or live vote at home or on the convention floor following each ballot result. While over 130 000 members were eligible to vote, only close to 50 percent of members voted. Conflicting media reports estimated 50-70% of voters did so prior to the convention.
The NDP had a record amount of delegates at this year’s leadership convention with close to 4600 members present.
The first round showed single digit percentage results for candidates Paul Dewar (7.4%), Martin Singh (5.8%), and Nikki Ashton (5.7%), with Mulclair ahead at 30.2%, Topp trailing at 21.3%, Cullen at 16.3%, and Nash in fourth with 12.8% of the vote. Dewar, Singh and Ashton dropped off following the first ballot results, with both Dewar and Ashton not publicly supporting any other candidates following.
Reports from Singh’s camp prior to the convention reported that Singh would instruct his supporters to move to support Mulcair, with Singh and supporters on Mulcair’s bleachers minutes later.
The second round of voting began shortly thereafter, with Mulcair, Topp, Cullen and Nash left on the ballot. Bleachers with supporters of each of the remaining candidates began to be merged with supporters from the first three candidates to drop out. Numerous blue-clad Ashton supporters moved to Cullen’s camp, while Dewar’s supporters were less recognizable.
With live voting available on the floor of the convention as well as online for members live-streaming the convention, voting was extended for each subsequent ballot to accommodate technical problems with accessing online voting. Rumours of problems for members voting in Western Canada began during second ballot voting.
Second ballot results gave Mulcair a stronger lead with 38.3% of the vote, Topp behind at 25%, Cullen still in the third spot with 19.9%, and Nash in last with 16.8%.
With Nash out, the third round of voting became needlessly complicated for voters with a large delay in voting. Delegates on the floor of the convention waited in line for over an hour as online voting was down. Jokes referencing the recent misleading robocalls were made across the floor, with delegates wondering whether “Pierre Poutine” was behind the problems.
The NDP later claimed that there was a cyber attack on the company used for the online voting that caused the delay. While the attack slowed down the voting, it did not effect voting outcomes as the voting was done through a secure server requiring both a membership number and pin-code password.
Third ballot results showed a stronger lead for Mulcair at 43.8% of the vote, but not enough to meet the required 50% +1 vote. Topp remained in second place with 31.6%, and Cullen was eliminated with 24.6% of the vote.
The voting for the fourth and final ballot was extended by over an hour as both Topp and Mulcair supporters rallied a strong base along the bleachers of the convention centre. By just after 9pm, Mulcair was announced the winner with 57.2% of the vote, and Topp the runner-up with 42.8%.
The victory for Outremont MP Mulcair was welcome news for local MP for Compton-Stanstead, Jean Rousseau. “We were a bit worried at the beginning about Topp and his support in Western Canada,” admitted Rousseau, however with the strongest NDP base in British Columbia, Mulcair’s supporters needed to come from beyond Eastern Canada.
“I always thought that Mulcair had the greatest experience as a politician and he showed through environmental and economic issues.”