NDP Votes to Boot Thomas Mulcair and Hold Race for New Leader
Federal convention proves party's fight to redefine itself is far from over.
Thomas Mulcair (or is it Tom?) has been booted as leader of the federal NDP on the third and final day of the party's convention in Edmonton. A stunning 52 per cent of delegates voted for a leadership review, which will result in a race for a new leader.
Mulcair took to the stage about 10 minutes after the results were announced to chants of "NDP." Delivering his concession speech with devastated calm, Mulcair spoke of "hope" and "optimism" for the party. Delegates seemed considerably more attentive than they had been during his previous speech, clapping for a solid minute afterward, with many giving him a standing ovation. He stared at the back of the wall, sporting a forced smile, looking close to tears. The convention adjourned immediately afterwards. He'll remain caucus leader until a replacement is chosen.
In addition, a proposal to debate the Leap Manifesto—the condensed and more enjoyable version of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything that Mulcair implied he'd support and consequently got in major shit from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and high-ranking members of her cabinet—was approved by delegates.
All up, it was the worst possible outcome for Mulcair and his supporters, both outright rejecting him as leader and the mushy centrism that helped lose his party in the last election.
Mulcair knew his job was on the line. His performance during the October election was disastrous, with the party's attempts to neuter his anger and reconfigure him as a guy you wouldn't be fucking terrified to be in the same room with ended up backfiring and resulting in him coming across as deeply insincere.
It was widely expected Mulcair wouldn't attain his personal cutoff of 70 per cent of support from delegates: the heavyweight organized labour duo of Canadian Labour Congress and Public Service Alliance of Canada had already rejected him as leader in the lead up to the vote, while half of the party's youth caucus voted against him.
So Mulcair turned into a sponge, a quintessential Edmund Burke-styled delegate, stating he'll adopt any policies that NDP members want him to.
The Leap Manifesto was by far the most illustrious of the policies debated and voted on in the three-day convention (Point no. 3 of the document petitions for "no new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future" AKA oil and gas pipelines AKA fuck Alberta and its economic future).
But there were plenty of other ideas batted around: after all, the debates over resolutions on Saturdays clocked in around the same length as the extended edition of Return of the King.
Some of the ideas suggested in the 175 pages of proposals were pretty fucking cool: promoting worker-owned co-ops as alternatives to Uber, endorsing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, somehow converting the tropical nation of Turks and Caicos Islands into the 11th province of Canada, reinstating the phrase "socialism" to its rightful place in the party's constitution.
Unfortunately, only a handful of resolutions from each category actually get a chance to be voted on—a committee congregates before the festivities kick off to sort through the hundreds of ideas—meaning none of those aforementioned policies actually made it to the floor of the Shaw Convention Centre.
Instead, hundreds of NDP members successfully voted on profoundly predictable resolutions including lowering the voting age to 16, the renegotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the maintenance of the party's unwavering infatuation with proportional representation.
Most of the actual "debates" (which featured delegates taking three-minute turns explaining their positions and usually almost always agreeing with each other) exuded stereotypically Canadian courtesy, with the exception of the one speaker who most definitely moonlights as a slam poet and another who crescendoed in volume and rage until his mic was cut off.
Oddly, there was a complete absence of resolutions addressing the NDP's misfires in the last election—committing to balanced budgets,refusing to hike personal income taxes on the country's highest income earners, booting pro-Palestinian candidates—with over an hour of time gobbled up by sparring over convoluted procedural points.
Most of this revolved around an agenda change: the schedule for the leadership review on Sunday was tweaked without approval from delegates, triggering a unique intensity of wrath only to be found among people who blow their entire weekend at a political convention.
Those first few hours of Saturday served as a perfect metaphor for the NDP's utterly botched shot at the throne in October: overly polite and politically vacuous. A five-minute video broadcast just before lunch combined melodramatic music and cheesy interviews with MPs about how much it sucked to lose 51 seats and Official Opposition status, helpfully reiterating that gloomy theme.
Such blandness officially ended when Rachel Notley, Alberta's charismatic premier, arrived on stage after the break accompanied by a fucking monstrous standing ovation (there were probably another 10 of those in the course of her half-hour speech, no joke). It was at that moment when it became intensely clear that the convention really had little to do with new or amended policies.
It was expected that Notley would channel some more of that delicious Kirkland Signature™ Western Alienation in her speech. But she went well above and beyond the call of duty, converting the quiet mass into hundreds of stomping and cheering church attendees (chants of "NDP" and "Rachel" noisily filled the hall for much of the speech).
After ridiculing conservative opponents (conveniently ignoring the fact her soon-to-be defeated brethren in Manitoba also "invest more and more into the only social program they support—which is the prison system"), delivering a veiled insult at Kevin O'Leary in the form of a Donald Trump joke and trumpeting the merits of her government, Notley took aim at the Leap Manifesto and, by association, Mulcair.
"That is what you get to do when you move up from manifestos, to the detailed, principled, practical plans you can really implement by winning an election," she quipped.
Later in her speech, she deployed the language of "pipelines to tidewater," emphasizing that additional energy exports would allow for the transition to a "diversified, greener future." (Hi Trudeau!)
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people weren't mentioned a single time in Notley's speech, an especially odd omission given both the provincial and federal NDP committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which in essence requires states to seek "free, prior and informed consent" from aboriginal groups before building pipelines, a dangerous prospect for a government that wants to build pipelines through nations that don't want pipelines).
The speech was all remarkably well received. No other event during the day came close to drawing the amount of applause as her speech did. It also made the collapse in support for Mulcair that much more real: he didn't even draw much applause when he hijacked a mic "entirely out of order" to show his support for a resolution that backed nuclear disarmament (as if any NDP member would reject the idea).
Such a fact is borderline sad to consider. Mulcair fucked up the election in a very real way. Instead of resigning as leader, he decided to take his chances on a nebulous vote of confidence in the heartland of the Alberta NDP. It completely flopped. What's next for the federal party is completely unclear, with support splitting between East and West, Labour and Environmentalists, Leaping and, uh, Sitting.
Pass the organic popcorn.
Follow James on Twitter.