It’s still quite early in the contest, but judging by the March 12 televised leadership debate on the replacement of Tom Mulcair at the helm of the federal NDP, the entire proceedings could become known as the bland leading the bland.
Even the traditional iconic bright orange party colour has been replaced by a washed out tangerine, with an even duller gray background.
Somehow it all seems symbolic as the federal NDP fades into history.
As the party struggles to re-establish its credibility with Canadian voters, it has to bury a few hatchets left over from Mulcair’s embarrassing loss to Justin Trudeau’s surging Liberals in the 2015 federal election.
It became even more embarrassing when, after stating he wanted to remain as party leader in the next federal election, Mulcair was defeated in 2016 in a confidence vote on his leadership; hence the current leadership campaign.
Candidates have until July 3 to file their nomination papers for the vote, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 18.
Rumors abound that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might even try to pull a sneak election as early as this fall to mitigate whatever possible gains the NDP might rack up during the leadership campaign; however, if the NDP party faithful can’t drum up anymore enthusiasm than what we have seen to date, there won’t be any NDP gains in public opinion or potential election poll results.
There are currently four candidates vying for the NDP leadership post, but none of them appear to be establishing themselves as the front runner: Peter Julian, a 54 year-old community activist, the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster since 2004; Niki Ashton, a 34 year-old environmental activist, the MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski since 2008; Charlie Angus, a 54 year-old entertainer/journalist/broadcaster, the MP for Timmins-James Bay since 2004; and Guy Caron, a 48 year-old economist, MP for Rimouski-Neigette since 2011.
In the March 12 televised debate, they were so polite, the event came off as more of a love-in than a spirited debate.
Regaining voter support for the NDP across Canada presents some formidable challenges as NDP provincial branches have moved towards adopting the approach of the Leap Manifesto, seen by its opponents as destroying resource-based job opportunities in almost every province.
In its simplest terms, the Leap Manifesto states strong opposition to non-renewable resource exploitation, a position which, if implemented, has been estimated by the B.C. budget office, would destroy up to 30,000 full time jobs in this province alone.
It becomes an even thornier issue in British Columbia where this province’s economy is more resource-based than much of the rest of Canada but, until now, has offered strong support for the NDP in many ridings.
Combining the lack of charisma of the current candidates for the federal NDP leadership with the even greater lack of sufficient funding to conduct any effective leadership campaigns makes it difficult to understand where the party is heading.
There is no excitement. There are no headline-grabbing events. There is no attraction to the federal NDP for most Canadians.
It’s almost like a chess game in which the opponents can display tremendous intellectual capacity but can’t rise above the inherent dullness of the contest.
In short, there is little hope that the party can survive the bleak weeks and months ahead with any confidence in the party’s ability to survive on a national level.
There will be no Jack Layton stepping forward to invigorate and elevate the NDP’s status as a legitimate federal contender.
There will be no Tommy Douglas bringing an almost evangelical fervor to any campaign.
Most of all, there will be nobody left to invade the hearts, souls and minds of young people who traditionally look to the socialist war caries of the NDP to make their voices heard and to fuel their own youthful rebellions.
– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.