PARLIAMENT HILLâIt’s been three months and no one has yet entered the race to become the next federal NDP leader, but prospective candidates are sizing up support and potential competitors with one or two expected to announce before yearâs end.
Five names of likelyÂ candidates are currently floating around, including NDP MPs Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook-Aski, Man.), Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette-TĂ©miscouata-Les Basuqes, Que.), and Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.), as well as Ontario NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh, the MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ont.
Mr. Angus is currently NDP caucus chair, while Mr. Julian is NDP House leader, and the other MPs hold various critic roles.
Some likely candidates have already ruled out runs at the leadership, including NDP MPs Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) and Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, Que.), both citing family reasons and the demands of a leadership campaign. Former MP Megan Leslie has similarly indicated she doesnât have an interest this time around when repeatedly asked, including recently on Twitter on Oct. 8.
With a year to go until a vote, sources say thereâs puzzlement among some but little concern overall on the lack of any candidates, with MPs now focused on work in the House of Commons after getting a chance to vent at the caucus retreat in Montreal last month.
âI wouldnât be surprised if you see the first candidate at least step forward by the end of the month. Thereâs a kind of debate of: Do you want to be the first one in or do you want to wait until the field shapes up until you jump in?â said Robin MacLachlan, vice-president of Summa Strategies and a former NDP staffer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being first out of the gate, he said. On the one hand, âyou get the opportunity to brand your candidacy in the eyes of membersâ and âframe what the race is about.â But on the other hand,Â it makes you a target for scrutiny and officially subject to the rules that come with a leadership race.
âWith 12 months out from a race, thereâs plenty of time for candidates to announce and to build their organizations,â said Mr. MacLachlan. âAny potential candidates are viewing that amount of time as a very long race.â
He said he expects the field will âshape up considerably by the end of this year and the beginning of next.â Already some potential candidates âare talking about this quite a bit,â he said.
âI think, rather than anxiety, what youâre seeing is people starting to mobilize and trying to encourage people to run,â said Mr. MacLachlan.
Declaring before the end of the year would also have some fundraising advantages, said Mr. MacLachlan, as a candidate could tap into supporters under two different donation caps, one for 2016 and the one for 2017.
The rules for leadership fundraising were amended in 2014, changing it from a cap for the entire duration of the race to now being a cap based on calendar year, with individuals able to donate a total of $1,525 to campaigns in 2016 and $1,550 in 2017âoutside of the similar fundraising caps placed on annual donations to political parties.
The NDP leadership race officially kicked off at the beginning of July after party members voted in favour of holding a leadership race in a review vote at a convention in Edmonton last April. While many at convention had anticipated a close vote, the decision to hold a race surprised many, given the NDPâs history of not turfing leaders after one bad election result. But expectations have changed following the 2011 result, under the leadership of the late Jack Layton, that brought the NDP to the status of official opposition for the first time. As well, polls before that last election showed NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) poised to becomeÂ prime minister.
Interested candidates have until July 3 next year to register forÂ the leadership race, which is being run under new rules that will see party members vote by a series of ballots starting Sept. 18 next yearÂ andÂ a new leader to be announced no later than Oct. 29.
Thereâs a $1.5-million spending limit per candidate for the race, not including the $30,000 non-refundable registration fee, the cost of fundraising and travel, and any child care for the candidate or campaign team, among other exemptions.
An NDP insider told The Hill Times that âcertainly for the membership it is puzzlingâ that no one has yet entered the race. This person said membersÂ âwanted that leadership race and they want to have debates and they want to see what the next steps are for the party and whoâs best to bring it forward,â and âitâs a bit of a problem to live in that vacuum, especially when you look at the Conservative Party and the numerous candidates they have.”
âIâm expecting people to announce and membership are expecting people to announce soon. The fiscal year is closing, so in terms of taping into the donor base and the support base, thereâs only two months and a half left for 2016,â said the insider, adding right now thereâs âa bit of a cat-and-mouse game going on with the leadership candidates âŠ a bit of wait-and-see approach.â
While the job of leader is never easy, and thereâs no guarantee of becoming the next prime minister, itâs no âpoisoned chalice,â as recently described by some in media, and itâs a question of fighting for values, said the insider. The âbig challengeâ for the NDP will come once the Conservative Party has chosen its new leader, then âitâs going to be two permanent leaders and a party still looking for one.â
Speaking with The Hill Times last week, Mr. Cullen said after being taken âsomewhat by surpriseâ by the decision of the NDP membership at the convention last spring, he seriously considered running but ultimately decided against it given his young family and the necessary commitment that comes with being leader.
âI didnât think that I could give my full self to it and so that right away made it me trying to convince myself rather than this feeling like the right thing at the right time,â he said.
Mr. Cullen said he thinks no one has yet announced because âthe party chose such a long race.â Speaking from the experience having run for the leadership in 2012 (a roughly six-month race) he said, âitâs just a very, very long time to sustain the energy, the fundraising, the momentumâ thatâs needed, and he also âwould have probably not declared by now either.â
That said, Mr. Cullen said the party âhad its reasonsâ for choosing the race it did, with a B.C. provincial election in May being one factor. Through his work with the House Electoral Reform Committee in recent months, heâs also learned that âmore time is betterâ for underrepresented groups, like women, in politics, as âtypically men have an advantage in getting a candidacy of any kind, local nomination or leadership, put together in a short amount of time.â
âI donât know if that was the party’s intention, but it is a secondary benefit,â he said. âEven though we have sometimes uncomfortable stories like, ”Where are all the candidates?â Theyâre coming.â
Despite the NDPâs disappointing result in the last election, the federal caucus is still âa good sized groupâ historically, and the âmyth was broken in the last electionâ that Canadians would ânever consider the NDP for government,â said Mr. Cullen.
âYou get over it, right. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. âŠ You can only stay there so long, so weâre moving on,â said Mr. Cullen. âThe phone calls are happening in increasing frequency as people start to make their intentions known.â
He said he expects âone or twoâ candidates to declare before Christmas âto try to get some early momentum,â but he thinks âthe lion’s shareâ will declare in early 2017. Mr. Cullen said while for those observing the raceÂ from the outsideÂ âit may look strangeâ no one has yet declared, heâs âconvincedâ that once a new leader is chosen next fall, âthese early days will be entirely forgotten.â
After topping some polls heading into the 2015 federal election, the NDP has slipped back to third place, sitting at 11 per cent in an average of September 2016 polls by Ăric Grenier posted to ThreeHundredEight.com, with the Liberals at 49.8 and Conservatives at 29.5.
But a source close to the NDP said, âNew Democrats are pretty hardened to poll numbers. âŠ The occasions when theyâve been good to New Democrats you can name on the fingers of one hand.â
Meanwhile, the previous NDP insider said the polls mean little until all three parties have leaders in place that will take them into the next election.
Mr. Cullen said he thinks the popularity of the Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) is based on both âcelebrityâ and the âprogressive policiesâ that were put forward last election, but âmany of the policies Canadians voted for were our policies.â With some âbig ticket itemsâ coming to head, on First Nations issues, climate change, and pipelines for example, he said, âitâs proving a challenge for [Mr. Trudeau] to keep those promises.â
âA great advantage for the NDP is to confidently and with credibility present ourselves as the party to actually fulfill some of the things people voted or in the last election,â said Mr. Cullen, adding thereâs lots of âgrowth potential.â
âWeâve been through a bit âŠ but thereâs a real focus and determination. We all have an enormous amount of work to do.â
The source close to the NDP said many were expectingÂ Mr. MulcairÂ to make plans to step down as leader by the end of the year, as itâs âtrickyâ holding a leadership contest withâimplicit or explicitâ criticisms of the outgoing guard while theyâre still in place. This person said a lack of timeline for Mr. Mulcair’s exit is part of the reason for the delay in candidates. Thereâs also something of a wait-and-see approach among interested NDP candidates, said the source, with some âwaveringâ after watching presumed Conservative leadership heavyweights like Peter MacKay and Tony Clement bow out of that race. The race may not âreally begin until some time late next spring,â said the source.
During the fall caucus retreat, there were âhuge rumblingsâ with âmore than a dozen caucus members who spoke out strongly in that discussion about trying to find a way forward that didnât involve either Tom having to leave immediately or staying until next summer, and he just turned them down.â But thatâs been put to bed for now, with MPs focused on work in the House of Commons, said the source.
Meanwhile, thereâs something of a âJack Layton searchâ underway by âa number of New Democrats,â who are looking outside to caucus to the municipal and provincial levels, and even the NGO and labour communities, to try to find prospective leadership candidates. Back in 2003, Mr. Layton jumped from municipal politics to become federal party leader.
âI expect that process will probably heat up the longer the absence of any obvious frontrunner from the usual suspects,â said the source.
The Hill Times