The race to succeed Jack Layton is finally shaping up between Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, and a bunch of other guys you’ve never heard of.
The race for the NDP leadership now has its two frontrunners officially signed up, with former party president Brian Topp throwing his hat in the ring last month and Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair announcing his bid yesterday. While there are four other candidates as well, and potentially more to follow (ahem, Libby Davies), the commentariat consensus so far is that Topp and Mulcair will be battling this out until the March 24 vote in Toronto. The Toronto Star‘s Tim Harper gives the early advantage to Topp, who’s shown his deftness for organizing by lining up endorsements from NDP heavyweights such as Roy Romanow and Ed Broadbent and powerful unions such as the United Steel Workers. But Topp, “the consummate back room strategist,” is lacking one important thing that Mulcair has in spades: actual experience as a politician. “Topp has yet to perform under fire,” notes Harper, and while he’s a competent public speaker, he doesn’t have the kind of charisma that one gets from kissing babies and debating on legislature floor for years. At the same time, though, Mulcair has hardly displayed the organizational acumen that Topp possesses. It’s almost as if they’re the perfect candidate split into two men.
John Geddes of Macleans figures the race could hinge along one key fault – whether the party’s members want to move toward the centre or keep up their pro-labour history on the left. Topp, who’s already secured a bunch of union endorsements and used to be the director for the Toronto chapter of ACTRA, the actors’ union, is clearly more beholden to the party’s labour wing than Mulcair, who was a cabinet minister in Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government before jumping to the NDP. And with the Conservative government devoting much of their anger toward unions in the early days of this Parliament, Topp’s labour past is almost certainly to become the target of the Tory attack-ad machine that thrashed Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. On the other hand, Mulcair has been playing up Quebec nationalism in a bid to secure support from that province’s members, something that Tory strategists are surely already spinning into some separatism-tinged fiction.
All this, combined with the unpredictable nature of run-off voting used at leadership conventions, could clear the way for a third candidate to run away with the party’s reins. So far, the most likely candidate to do that on March 24 appears to be Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, whom the Winnipeg Free Press‘ Dan Lett considers to have “all the tools needed to pick up where Layton left off: He is telegenic, earnest and articulate.” Dewar has kept out of the spotlight so far, quietly working his way across the country to strengthen his campaign, which Lett notes has been “fuzzy” at best. Unlike both Topp, who was feted at a swanky celebrity-ridden Rosedale fundraiser before announcing his candidacy, or Mulcair, who hardly paid his dues to ascend the party ranks, Dewar is framing his campaign around dedication and grassroots activism. Those are both good qualities to boast in a party that’s historically planned for long-, long-, long-term success. As Lett says, though, Dewar will need some sort of defining issue to keep his campaign afloat, as “parties have to stand for something or else they get lost in the muddled middle.” Congeniality is a wonderful thing to have, but let’s just say it never won anyone the Miss America contest.