Membership Has Its Privileges

Party members across the country seem to be sidelining the top Quebec NDP leadership candidate, Thomas Mulcair. Bad move, says Rex.

Party members across the country seem to be sidelining the top Quebec NDP leadership candidate, Thomas Mulcair.  Bad move, says Rex.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Thomas Mulcair, the dulcet-toned, one-time only Quebec NDP MP, may,  as his critics have said,  be whining  when he complains about the disadvantage Quebec  is under in the current leadership campaign.    But he has made an undefeatable point.


In the current arrangement, Quebec has the smallest say of any province in who will be elected NDP leader.  This is not just a non sequitur.   It is suicidal politics. 


The New Democratic Party has its most abundant – by far – representation in Parliament from Quebec – 59 seats.   But, it has only a trickle, a wisp, a mite of actual party memberships – something like 1600. Compare this to British Columbia, which has only 12 federal NDP seats, but a party membership base of 30,000.

In the upcoming leadership race then,   BC will have roughly 20 times the clout for less than 1/5, one fifth, of the seats.  Now, whether you’re a Mulcair fan or enemy, this is absurd.   On this showing, it’s not that the cards are stacked against Mr. Mulcair – he’s not even in the game, and furthermore they’re warning him to stay away from the table.

It gets worse.  Saskatchewan, the Bethlehem stable of the NDP, currently has no federal NDP representation, Zero, but nearly 9,000 memberships. 

Should, say,  Brian Topp "win" Saskatchewan in the upcoming, one person/one  vote leadership – he would have 5 times the vote, over Mulcair, if Mulcair won all of Quebec.    This is nonsense on stilts.  The NDP has to re-weight its voting procedures so they are more in line with current Commons reality.  Giving Quebec – in this context – less than Saskatchewan cannot be explained, rationalized or endured.

Which leads to a second point.  The NDP seem quite confused about Mr. Mulcair.  He is their deputy leader; he is their Quebec lieutenant; and he was – till the election – the party’s only Quebec flag-bearer in the House.   He was their Quebec beachhead.  But somehow – (Rodney Dangerfield alert) he gets little or no respect.  The pioneer member gets no credit.   It was all Jack they say – Well maybe. 

This must have much to do with the almost unseemly rush – the "shock and awe campaign" some NDPer has dubbed it – to put the party insider Brian Topp in the leadership spot. Mulcair is getting the treatment normally saved for strangers or hostiles lest he slow the insider favoured by the brass.

Mr. Topp, for example, has Ed Broadbent’s endorsement – this is almost papal in NDP circles; and he has Roy Romanow’s, as good as a shout out from the college of cardinals.  Mr. Topp may be all these Eminents believe him to be, but bypassing the weakness of Quebec in the leadership contest, and seeming to push Mulcair out of the way, is not a winning formula for the long run.

Choosing leaders from inside didn’t work for the Liberals recently.  And ignoring the scale of the NDP’s presence in Quebec, not giving it expression in the current leadership vote, is self-defeating politics.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.