Rex Murphy argues that the NDP leadership race is taking most of the party’s talent out of play, something the Liberals will use to their advantage.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Out of Play

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The NDP are choosing a strange way to consolidate the massive gains they made in the general election. Having reached the before unapproachable status of opposition party, having brutally sidelined and diminished the Liberals, they launched an extended leadership campaign that drew almost all their 'big names' outside the House of Commons.

Following Mr. Layton's passing they nominated as interim leader an MP, who, whatever her personal qualities, and I am sure they are numerous and laudable, is particularly ill suited for the role of Leader of the Opposition. Placing one of their weakest players in that job was extremely unwise.

It means and has meant that the Liberals, particularly under Bob Rae, have the biggest forum, and the automatic media attention it brings, all to themselves - the House of Commons.

Face it. The very moment the Liberals were at their greatest political disadvantage, when the novelty of the NDP in opposition would have guaranteed them heightened coverage and wide interest; they determined to take all the action, and all the drama, outside the Commons.

The Liberals were desperately in need of oxygen after election night, desperately in need of some way to re-secure the spotlight - and who gave them both oxygen and centre stage - why the NDP.

The leadership contest itself comes with other problematics. It is bound to sharpen the distinction between the NDP’s old caucus, and the new nearly 60 MPs all from Quebec. That new caucus will have measured its worth and weight by the end of the leadership and place the NDP under pressures of accommodation it could simply ignore or finesse before.

The Quebec wing is now more than half the party. The NDP really is a new party now, but it is not at all clear they have had time to adjust to that basic consideration.

Meantime, while the NDP are busily fielding a small regiment to run for the leadership, Stephen Harper has his own way, is frontloading a lot of his pet legislation - the omnibus crime bill is a good example - at the time his supposed opposition is busy elsewhere.

Once again it’s the Liberals and their interim leader who gather the headlines and lead the charge.

The party has a feeble presence in the House, a leadership race taking most of its talent out of play and a giving the Liberals the playing field by default, at the very time the Liberals are most desperate.

The NDP may find itself at the end of it to have surrendered the momentum of its victory and given its great rival, the Liberal Party, a most critical break at a most crucial time.

For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.