Can Tom Mulcair hang on as leader of the federal New Democrats? I’m no longer sure he can.
In Toronto at least, the mood among many NDP activists is unforgiving. Now a prominent NDP provincial legislator has gone public with her demand that Mulcair step down.
“He’s got to go,” says Cheri DiNovo who, as MPP for Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park, is one of only two elected New Democrats left standing in Canada’s largest city.
Critics like DiNovo don’t necessarily blame Mulcair for everything that went wrong in the Oct. 19 election — one that saw the NDP lose more than half its seats nationally including all eight in Toronto.
But they blame him for quite a bit.
By contrast, the party’s official line on the election results is remarkably sanguine.
Mulcair points out that, in spite of being reduced to third-party status, his 44 MPs still form the second-largest NDP caucus in Canadian history.
And with 16 seats in Quebec, the party maintains a solid presence in that electorally crucial province.
Both of these facts are presented by Mulcair supporters as good reasons to keep the current leader. More to the point, perhaps, there is no glaringly obvious successor.
Some of the most well-known New Democrat MPs, including Toronto’s Peggy Nash, Ottawa’s Paul Dewar and Halifax’s Megan Leslie, went down to defeat in the election.
Of those who ran against Mulcair in the last NDP leadership campaign, only British Columbia’s Nathan Cullen, Quebec’s Romeo Saganash and Manitoba’s Niki Ashton are sitting MPs.
None is a household name.
In the immediate aftermath of Oct. 19, my best guess was that the party would support Mulcair in the mandatory leadership review scheduled for April — on the theory that he was less risky than an untested alternative.
Certainly, Mulcair seems determined to hang on. Rhetorically, he has moved leftward, referring to the NDP as Canada’s “progressive opposition.”
His supporters are promoting the theory that the NDP lost because of Mulcair’s principled support of Muslim women who choose to wear a face-covering, or niqab, during the public portion of Canadian citizenship ceremonies.
As a strategy to appease the party’s rank and file, this should have worked. But among many New Democrats I’ve talked to, it hasn’t.
DiNovo’s decision to publicly call for Mulcair’s ouster has brought this subterranean dissatisfaction out into the open.
A former United Church minister, DiNovo has never been shy about confronting the authorities in her party — including her own provincial leader, Andrea Horwath.
In December she told Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole that Mulcair’s NDP did badly in October largely because it had lost its way — that in its effort to win power, it had abandoned any commitment to social democracy.
A few days later, she made the same points on CBC Radio.
But until now neither she nor any other elected New Democrat that I know of has openly called for the leader’s head.
In a telephone interview this week, DiNovo reiterated her fundamental critique of the NDP — that in its drive for power it has abandoned its principles.
The 2015 campaign, she said, started out well. In fact, with its call for a national daycare program, Mulcair’s platform initially appeared more left-wing than that of former NDP leader Jack Layton.
This, she said, soon deteriorated as the NDP tried to burnish its centrist credentials — particularly by emphasizing fiscal sobriety, or what DiNovo called Mulcair’s “balanced budget nonsense.”
She acknowledged that the NDP’s urge to occupy centre ground predates Mulcair. But in this campaign he pushed it hard — with devastating results for the party.
His removal, she said, will not be enough to solve the NDP’s problems. These go much deeper.
But getting rid of the leader is a necessary step. In particular, she said, Mulcair and those in the party’s central apparatus must accept responsibility for a disastrous campaign.
And then the NDP will have to figure out its purpose.
“We’re no longer new,” she said wryly. “We’re certainly not democratic. And no one is having a party anywhere.”