Rex Murphy weighs in on the NDP leadership convention and asks whether the party can appeal to all regions of the country.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

NDP Leadership Race

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don’t know what it says about the leadership race that it takes a party ancient to stir up the whippersnappers, but there you have it.

I think everyone owes Ed Broadbent a round of applause for – at the last minute – rescuing the NDP leadership race from its doldrums and dumps.  The former leader offered an analysis of the (likely) next leader – Thomas Mulcair, which was the equivalent of putting a very agile cat among some very pouty pidgeons. 

Mr. Broadbent evidently views Mr. Mulcair very darkly, a menacing hybrid (social-democratically speaking) of the Cookie-Monster and Machiavelli.

The election this weekend is just another segment of an unfolding story.  If the New Democrats choose rightly – then they continue what began roughly a year ago in the election.  They will consolidate their newly-gained Quebec fortress:  they will manage the transition from a much loved leader to a brand new one; and they will effectively shut off the oxygen on an renewal of the Liberal party. 

That’s a ferociously big agenda.  It’s a good question whether the race itself has in any real way much helped them.  The NDP deliberately chose to conduct their leadership in a hush - we didn’t so much follow it, as overhear it; there have been Future Shop sales of more suspense and drama.  And they exiled, for unknown reasons, all their candidates (the heavy-hitters) from their natural arena in the House of Commons.

As an aside – the one person who will watch this race with just about as much interest as the heavyweights of the NDP – is a former Big Dipper himself, Bob Rae. It’s outcome will determine a lot of his future too.

This could be an earthquake shift in Canadian politics, if – if – they choose the right person to hold on to the Layton legacy, the first ever, second-place win in Canadian politics? Can Mulcair - everyone’s favourite projected winner – do that?

Or will his strengths – his Quebec base, his strong support among all those brand new MPS his Liberal-bridging roots – play against him outside that province?  Will his manner, the division  Ed  Broadbent alleges he inspires, be a drawback?  And will his strangely hesitant mutterings about Alberta and the oilsands leave the NDP, again, stranded on the prairies, winning hosannas from greens, but at the expense of a national base?

Will the NDP become a Quebec-based, Quebec-driven party, or one which – as the Liberals of old – can speak to all regions of the country: This is the fundamental tension, the central preoccupation, of the race and the pivot of this weekend’s choice.

The next chapter of this long saga will be in the House of Commons so willfully deserted by the NDP candidates over the last months?  The return of so many front bench players will make the Commons the real testing ground. 

Harper is combative and has a majority. The NDP have exuberance and will have a new leader.   And Mr. Rae has patience and all its guiles.

The stage is set.  The game is afoot.  Mr. Speaker – don your helmet!

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.