8 things to watch at the NDP convention

The anticipation has been building for seven months and New Democrats will finally elect their permanent leader to replace the late Jack Layton at a two-day convention that begins Friday. Here are eight things to keep your eye on this weekend.
The NDP's leadership convention gets underway Friday in Toronto and on Saturday, a new leader of the Official Opposition will be announced. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The NDP's leadership convention officially begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and a permanent leader will finally be chosen sometime on Saturday.

Niki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash, Martin Singh, and Brian Topp have been battling it out and while pundits say there are front-runners, it's not clear who is going to win or how events will unfold.

More than 3,000 New Democrats will be at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and more than 47,000 have already cast their ballots in advance by voting online and by mail. Leadership conventions can be filled with drama and surprises and this one is shaping up to be one filled with excitement, suspense, but also nostalgia and other emotions.

New Democrats say this is the leadership race no one wanted – it was prompted by the death of Jack Layton and the leader who brought the party to Official Opposition won't be far from their thoughts as they choose the person to succeed him.

Here are a few things to watch for throughout the weekend:

1. Leadership showcases

After the official greetings and welcomes, the first event of the two-day convention is the leadership showcases. Each candidate has 20 minutes to boast about themselves and make their final pitch for votes. The candidates will make speeches, have video presentations, and may have some surprises up their sleeves – it's up to them how they use the time.

Paul Dewar, for example, is having MP Charlie Angus, a musician, perform an original song with a Canadian hip-hop artist whose name remains a mystery. The showcases could be make or break moments for the candidates as they try to convince New Democrats that they are the best choice. Watch for the audience reaction too to see who pulls off a successful showcase and if there are any flops.

2. Jack Layton tribute

The NDP's former leader Jack Layton died in August 2011 from cancer. A special tribute will be paid to him at the NDP's convention this weekend. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The special tribute to the NDP's late leader who died of cancer in August will get underway at 7 p.m. on Friday night. It will feature remarks from Layton's family and others and a video presentation. What you won't see in the video or on stage is anyone who is running to replace him, a strategic decision that was made given that voting will be underway at the time the tribute is taking place. Layton's wife, Olivia Chow, a Toronto MP, did not publicly endorse a candidate.

3. Social media

Social media is going to play an important role at this convention, particularly because many members will be staying plugged in to what's happening through their smartphones. Twitter, Facebook, texts and emails will tell people who's still in, who is out, when the voting is open and closed and what the atmosphere is like for those who aren't there in person. The candidates will also be relying on social media for their get-out-the-vote strategies as the day goes on. The convention is also being livestreamed on the NDP's website and it will also be broadcast on television.

4. Hospitality suites

Hospitality suites are a part of any political convention but at a leadership convention they take on special significance. The various candidates will be hosting parties Friday night where they and their supporters will schmooze and woo their guests. "How good is the food, how free are the drinks?" Ian Capstick, a political commentator and former NDP press secretary said when asked about what he'll be watching out for at the convention, and at the parties. The mood at the hospitality suites can speak volumes and some interesting conversations can take place away from the convention floor, and when the booze is flowing freely.

5. First round results

The whole thing could be over as early as 10 a.m. Saturday when the results of the advance and first ballot voting are announced. If someone got more than 50 per cent of the vote then it's a done deal and the celebrations can start early. If not, then watch for who got the lowest number of votes because they will be eliminated and could throw their support to someone else. Other low-place finishers could volunteer to drop off the ballot and could also try and influence who their supporters choose on the second ballot.

The candidates will not be told in advance of the results, they will find out at the same time as everyone else when they are flashed up on screens around the convention room. Watch for their reactions on live television. They will have 30 minutes to decide if they are staying or going for the next round of voting. "If you're going to make big moves on the floor of the convention it's going to need to be done on live TV with a huge social media backbone to it to really be able to get your message out to your followers," Capstick said on CBC's The Current on Thursday.

6. The U word

CBC live coverage

Follow all the developments from the NDP convention Friday and Saturday on CBCNews.ca, CBC News Network, CBC-TV and CBC Radio or via the CBC News App.

CBCNews.ca will have all-day coverage Friday and Saturday on our live blog, with livestreaming video of Friday's candidate speeches, Power & Politics with Evan Solomon and Saturday's CBC News special right up to the winner's acceptance speech. Join us online for live chats, photos, video clips and Q&As throughout the day or follow us on Twitter at @CBCPolitics

We'll kick things off with a live chat with Ian Capstick, Greg Weston and Kady O'Malley, Friday at noon ET at CBCNews.ca.

It wouldn't be a leap to guess that the word unity is going to be heard a lot this weekend. In the days leading up to the convention Nycole Turmel, interim leader, talked about how her primary goal was to keep the caucus united over the last seven months and how the new leader will inherit a cohesive caucus despite the leadership contest. The candidates have also talked about supporting the new leader, whoever it is, and coming together as a united party. "I would go so far as to project a violent outbreak of unanimity and unity at the end of this particular convention," said Capstick.

7. The moment of victory

The crowning of a new leader is a historic moment for any political party and is an event that goes down in its history books. For the NDP, it's only happened six times before over the course of its 50-year history. What will the winner say in his or her victory speech and how will the audience react?

8. The morning after

There will be little rest for the new leader after the victory celebration because on Sunday morning, he or she is expected to meet with the NDP caucus, the party's federal council, and, the media. The bulk of NDP MPs lined up behind Mulcair, while others divided their loyalties among their other caucus colleagues who ran for the job. Stay tuned for whether they have anything say about their new leader after meeting with him or her, and watch for what the leader says about his or her priorities.