The mystery of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s long fall: Why didn’t he see it coming?

Posted on April 11, 2016, 2:15 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accepts his defeat at his party’s national convention in Edmonton yesterday. Below: Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis and Alberta Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous.

The astonishing thing about yesterday’s NDP leadership review vote is that an obviously smart guy like Thomas Mulcair seems not to have seen it coming.

At least until the few hours before last weekend’s national New Democratic Party convention in Edmonton, the federal NDP leader acted as if he were on cruise control, confident that despite the party’s sorry performance in last fall’s federal election its 1,768 delegates would happily extend his tenure on the job.

HoffmanBecause, let’s face it, when a political leader says he’ll hang in there if he gets the endorsement of 70 per cent of a convention’s delegates, that’s a pretty strong indication he expects to get about 70 per cent support.

When the leader in question then gets the support of only 48 per cent, as happened to Mr. Mulcair yesterday morning at the Shaw Convention Centre, that is evidence of an epic blunder.

Yet this is precisely what happened. The error was arguably more severe and less excusable than Mr. Mulcair’s miscalculation last fall when he adopted a hard Conservative line on budget deficits and thereby opened the door to the sunny arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his deficit-accepting Liberals.

Surely it was easier to misread the intentions of the entire electorate in a geographically huge and culturally diverse country like Canada than it was to get it so wrong about the inner thoughts of his own party’s delegates, with whom any competent leader should be in touch!

Whatever else Mr. Mulcair may be, he is not unintelligent. His performance as Opposition Leader in the last Parliament proves that. So the mystery at the heart of yesterday’s dramatic turn in his political fortunes is how he managed to get it so grievously wrong for so long.

Coming into the convention, as we have seen in national news coverage, Mr. Mulcair seemed to have the support of the leaders of most major unions, who still play a big role in the federal party, if not that of executives of labour central organizations like the Canadian Labour Congress and provincial labour federations.

McGowanIt also seemed reasonable he would get the backing of the large local contingent of centrist Alberta New Democrats, still fired up by the victory of Premier Rachel Notley’s provincial government 11 months ago although deeply concerned about the severe impact of a flagging economy driven by low oil prices in their home province.

These groups were at the heart of the significant constituency that opposed the plan passed anyway first thing yesterday to spend two years debating the so-called Leap Manifesto, which calls for Canada to wean itself from fossil fuels in one generation, and to ignore Ms. Notley’s passionate plea the day before for support for a pipeline to market Alberta’s oil.

Along they way, Leap advocates had a little help from Stephen Lewis, 78, leader of the Ontario New Democrats in the 1970s and son of a former national NDP leader, who tried to undercut Ms. Notley’s arguments in his convention speech Saturday evening.

The success of the Leap resolution is a potential disaster for Ms. Notley’s government. It will certainly lead to an ugly week in Question Period as conservative politicians advance the argument her government is hopelessly linked to an anti-Alberta federal party. They were Tweeting such claims within 10 minutes of the vote on the Manifesto.

Yet Mr. Mulcair made no gesture to his potential Alberta supporters that indicated he doubted the wisdom of leaving the province’s resources in the ground – a notion Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan compared in debate yesterday to Pierre Trudeau’s oft-reviled National Energy Program.

LewisNor was there anything in Mr. Mulcair’s speech soon after that divisive debate to reassure them.

Given this, one has to wonder if Mr. Mulcair felt he was assured of the support of the Leap Manifesto’s constituency for some reason.

In the event, as the shocking outcome of yesterday’s vote illustrates, he got nothing in return for effectively chasing away the support of many Alberta and union delegates that might have been enough to save his bacon. As the final numbers make clear, he didn’t get the votes he presumably expected from the Leap document’s supporters either.

Postmedia political columnist Michael Den Tandt hinted yesterday a game’s afoot, with the removal of Mr. Mulcair setting the stage for the triumphant arrival of filmmaker and environmental activist Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis’s son, as a candidate. Avi Lewis is married to journalist and author Naomi Klein. Two years of discussion of these issues would be a natural springboard for his candidacy.

If that is indeed what is happening, NDP advocates of the centrist approach pioneered by the late Jack Layton and embodied by Ms. Notley’s government are unlikely to let it pass unchallenged.

Leap resolution passage sparks fury among many Alberta Dippers

Officially, Premier Rachel Notley’s government and its supporters in the ranks of federal NDP are shrugging off passage by federal NDP convention delegates yesterday of a resolution to continue the party debate on the Leap Manifesto as no big deal, just something that will be discussed locally by constituency associations.

Bilous“At the end of the day, Alberta’s an  energy province and that’s not going to change,” Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous said mildly yesterday. “We need to get our product to tidewater, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”

Behind the scenes, however, many supporters and members of the Notley Government were furious. There is already discussion among Alberta NDP activists of calling for formal separation of the Alberta NDP from the federal party during the provincial general meeting in June.

“I don’t think this is something that will lead to that outcome any time soon,” Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said cautiously yesterday.

But adoption by federal party delegates from elsewhere in Canada of the Leap resolution is bound to be seen by many as an endorsement of its controversial contents and a deadly threat to the Alberta NDP Government’s survival, not to mention that of the environmental policies it has already implemented.

Yesterday, it was being openly described as a stab in the back, and in more colourful terms:

“The question isn’t, ‘Do we have a fight?’ We have to have a fight,” one prominent Alberta New Democrat told me. “The question is, ‘Do we burn down the house?’ What else can we do? They came out here and pissed in our backyard!”

Mixed metaphors notwithstanding, this could get quite interesting.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

29 Comments to: The mystery of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s long fall: Why didn’t he see it coming?

  1. TC

    April 11th, 2016

    Something tells me that he saw a movement to unseat him coming, but just not that big. I thought he was in trouble after the last Federal election, but thought everyone would buy the notion that the NDP fell victim to strategic voting.

    It seems as though the division between the ideological and pragmatic wing of the NDP is growing larger, with the members who are governing belonging to the pragmatic wing.

    Reply
  2. Ron

    April 11th, 2016

    My right leaning brother-in-law saw the Notley victory as a way to greenwash (not his word) the tar sands etc.

    The Fed NDP support for LEAP is push back on that front. Good.

    Reply
  3. Gail

    April 11th, 2016

    I haven’t been overly impressed by Mulcair or, probably more properly put by the people whose advice he’s following, because it’s been much too center-right for my liking and the idea of what the NDP stands for. That said, however, I’m not enthused by the Leap Manifesto (two years of debate? Why? Do we want to make the party appear even less appealing?) because it’s a sideshow distraction from the social progressive values the NDP should be jumping on. Worse, it’s not a practical solution to the current situation. If this is indeed the beginnings of an attempt to turn the NDP super green I’m not sure it’s a path that, looking at it from the outside, I can see myself reasonably supporting.

    Reply
  4. political ranger

    April 11th, 2016

    It’s pretty simple David. There is no accounting for Alberta’s peculiar brand of idiocy, especially by the intelligent.

    We have already agreed to “wean ourselves from fossil fuels in one generation”; that’s what a 30% reduction by 2030 means. That’s what net-zero emissions by 2050 means. That’s what Notley agreed to in Paris.
    So it means we start today. With the petro-industry.
    It doesn’t mean shutting it down today, but it does mean that expansion is over.
    It means that ‘other’ forms of employment are going to be need to be found for most unemployed petro-workers.

    But the cognitive dissidence in this province is palpable. Always has been. It borders on idiocy, maybe even is idiocy. Even if they are ‘our’ idiots, they are still idiots.

    Gill McGowan’s assertion that because he has been an NDP supporter since he was 14 doesn’t, in fact, mean that he is excused from dealing with the circumstances of this day. Notley as Premier of a oil producing province doesn’t excuse her from making decisions for the benefit of all the people in this Province, voting and non-voting, alive today and into the future.
    Dealing with runaway GHG emissions is a problem both McGowan and Notley have to attend to today; not in some far off distant future. It’s going to mean painful repercussions not because they are bad NDP’ers, but because that is the nature of reality. Make the decision today and take the medicine voluntarily, with the help of all. Or continue to be the belligerent red-neck SOB’s that you’ve always been and take the medicine later, all on your own.

    There is much, much more in the Leap Manifesto than the idea of curtailing petro-production. But it is there. So are some good ideas about restricting FTA’s and corporate malfeasance, about strengthening individuals and communities through political and economic reforms. Only an idiot, or a corporate toady, would find such a document objectionable.
    Having intelligence doesn’t help understand this quandary one little bit.

    Reply
    • PK

      April 11th, 2016

      The era of oilsands expansion under Notley is over, actually. Her government brought in an emissions cap on the industry, enough to accommodate existing investments (so as to avoid scrapping billion dollar projects already underway) but with precious little room above that. Into the future, new developments can only come with the closure of old projects. And as for the transition to greener energy, this is one purpose of Alberta’s new carbon tax, slated to come into effect in 2017.

      Premier Notley is a dedicated environmentalist and political pragmatist, and it is difficult to express in words the supreme pride that Albertan NDs have in the work she’s doing. We are, in fact, already on our way to living the ideals of the LEAP manifesto, though I can forgive the rest of the country for having not noticed, as we’ve only been at it for less than a year.

      Reply
      • April 12th, 2016

        I am not as optimistic as you in the work of the provincial NDP folks.

        I am very disappointed in them. I am especially disappointed in Sarah Hoffman who has shown a bewildering blindness for issues in continuing care.

        The repeat of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre mess in Sundre is simply weird. She tells us that the NDP support public continuing care and then gets rid of the long term care beds at Sundre Hospital. How is this support for public delivery of continuing care? How is she increasing long term care beds by cutting them? The cognitive dissonance is acute.

        How is it even possible for a LTC patient be in a SL4 placement? If the long term care patients are reassessed and magically become SL4 placements, I guess this is bureaucratic and political expediency at its most extreme state. But if any of the original LTC patients are still LTC status then how can the minister even put them in the SL4 placement?

        The failures in continuing care are repeated elsewhere. Why is environmental oversight being put back into government control when we have had the farce of government oversight with the spin stories in the Klein error? Or will the NDP folks continue the Klein error of imaginative non-science in this department?

        Based on the poor performance of the NDP at the provincial level I doubt there is cause for optimism at the federal level. Mulcair was an intelligent leader but wasn’t able to be open and accessible; it felt very Harper with his team. It also feels very Harper with Notley’s Team.

        Reply
      • political ranger

        April 12th, 2016

        Yeah, I’m not sure what kind of environmentalist she is, but dedicated she is not.
        Carbon pricing is yet to happen. Lots of water to go under the bridge between now and 2017 or 2018 when these intended price targets are slated. Very ralph klien of her to put the decisions off for a few years while taking the media spin credit today. Also very PC of you to remind everybody of what you plan to do rather than what you have done.
        A cap 50% higher than what exists under the most irresponsible boom development conditions doesn’t really qualify as a cap in any sense of what it’s intended for. The intention you folks are hoping for is some sort of limit on development; a limit 150% above the irresponsible and unplanned free-for-all seen in the tar sands over the last decade is no limit at all. As you say, there is precious little room above that; true, not because of the imposed limit but rather because of the physical limitations of the tar sands themselves. There is, literally, no more hectares, no more un-developed boreal forest, no more room to do additional development. Even if the price of oil would warrant it.
        No! It’s simple. You can’t cozy up to the petro-industry, take their money and do their bidding AND claim to be moving towards a 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 or a net-zero emission state by 2050.
        You have to choose one path, OR the other. We all see which path the Albaturda NDP has chosen.

        Reply
      • Sam Gunsch

        April 12th, 2016

        Numerous columnists including the business press and Alberta Green Party have pointed out that AB NDP climate plan actually supports the scenario where in 2030, AB GHGs are higher. Not lower.

        I’m an NDP supporter and donor. But the data can’t be ignored. AB NDP is doing important climate action, but the planned expansion of oilsands permitted under the new so-called ‘cap’ negates all the gains re coal and shifting to solar and wind.

        It’s the shutting down of coal which allows oilsands growth of over 40% in GHG emissions, without making AB GHGs/capita be insanely high. As opposed to the just incredibly high at present.

        And allowing AB oil/tarsand expansion to the new ‘cap’ (lol) also requires that the rest of Canada cap their emissions at today’s levels if Canada is to meet the target AB and Canada supported at Paris. Neat trick, eh? AB is making the least royalties ever on oil/gas/tar but we’re planning on using up all of Canada’s GHG room.

        Just these four links are sufficient to appreciate the difference between all the rhetoric and the actual data regarding AB climate plan + AB/Canada’s oilsands conundrum. And it explains why much of the rest of Canada isn’t down on bended knees kissing our ring finger for sharing our dilbit pipelines with them.

        Decades of arrogant PC leadership in Alberta has pretty much embedded the image of arrogant, entitled corporate BigOil/Tar government leading AB. The AB NDP climate plan is good start, but is not going to undo that image when the oilsand/tarsands gets approval for another 40% plus expansion.

        http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/albertas-greenhouse-gas-plan-a-glass-half-full-or-half-empty/

        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/alberta-carbon-plan-looks-ambitious-but-wont-actually-cut-emissions/article27515194/

        http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/the-rhetoric-around-climate-change-leadership-needs-to-change/

        http://greenpartyofalberta.ca/back-to-the-drawing-board-greens-respond-to-alberta-governments-carbon-plan/

        Reply
        • anon

          April 12th, 2016

          This is very similar to what happened in Chile. The dictator ultimately retired but the neo-conservative agenda never stopped.

          Reply
  5. ronmac

    April 11th, 2016

    Fellow rabble rouser Rick Salutin has some insights on the NDP, the Leap Manifesto, and political leadership in general.

    As he sees it, the NDP always had a “sermon on the mount” attitude. We know what the country needs. We have the truth. Vote for us and we’ll give it to you. If you don’t elect us then that’s your problem. You weren’t ready for us. You haven’t been educated enough to know what’s good for you.

    The talking down remains in this Leap Manifesto. Like all manifestos, it comes across as a revelation from on high, telling people how they should feel. (it could have something to do with the fact the NDP has its roots in the Christian social gospel and the bible is full of relevations)

    Look at the current US political season. Politicians like Sanders and Trump are articulating something what people already feel and they are shaking political foundations.

    The best you can hope for any successful politician is people coming up after a speech and saying things like, “Thanks, that’s what I was already thinking.”

    Or: “You know, I’m hearing this same speech every other day. From my friends, From my family.”

    Not: “Thank you for bringing me the truth.”

    Reply
  6. CuJoYYC

    April 11th, 2016

    There is already discussion among Alberta NDP activists of calling for formal separation of the Alberta NDP from the federal party during the provincial general meeting in June.

    “I don’t think this is something that will lead to that outcome any time soon,” Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman said cautiously yesterday.

    ONLY SWIFT and DECISIVE action will save the Alberta NDs bacon. A quickie divorce from the federal NDP followed by a name change or even ‘Bountiful-style’ marriage with the ALP and the Alberta Party might be seismic shift enough and, in my not particularly humble opinion, a better representation of the middle-of-the-road vote from the 2015 provincial general election. I’m sure some of the more dogmatic Dippers will eschew the idea, but clearer minds may prevail.

    Reply
    • April 12th, 2016

      Sure go ahead and divorce. It won’t make any difference in the next provincial election. The provincial NDP are now the new PCs and we’re so done with the PCs. We’re also pretty done with the NDP.

      Reply
  7. Sassy

    April 11th, 2016

    Comments aren’t getting through – testing

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 11th, 2016

      Well, this one did …

      Reply
  8. Sassy

    April 11th, 2016

    Why, oh why, did Klein and Lewis name their declaration, the Leap Manifesto? It’s an inappropriate choice of words, but NDP’s opponents sure love it. The title can’t help but remind everyone of communist China’s Great LEAP Forward, and Marx’s and Engels’s The Communist MANIFESTO. Now the name has been broadcast all over the (mostly NDP-unfriendly) mainstream media. Mulcair added attention in the news by commenting on the most contentious statement in the declaration – leaving the oil in the ground. These are smart people so I can’t help think the choice of words for the title, Leap Manifesto, was given some considerable thought. I also wonder why the conference organizers allowed this document to frame discussion for the event, but must confess I don’t know how it all works.

    Rusty Idols at http://rustyidols.blogspot.ca/2016/04/what-mess.html calls the Leap Manifesto ‘a masterpiece of high level manipulative communication’. He also mentions the negative effect it will likely have on Manitoba’s provincial election next week, where the only other NDP government in Canada needs help, not this.

    Are Mulcair, Klein, and junior and senior Lewis helping or hindering the party? Also, why is Mulcair allowed to stay on another two years when his vision and non-collaborative style are not wanted?

    Reply
  9. PK

    April 11th, 2016

    A word on Mulcair in Alberta: I couldn’t name a single person here who believed that his campaign performance helped us in the general election. Between a lack of engagement by Mulcair with energy leaders, to a lack of time spent by him in the province despite the elongated writ period, to a lack of attention and care on the part of party HQ with its campaigns here, the writing was on the wall long ago. Now, the agreement by the rest of the delegation was slightly more of a surprise.

    Reply
    • April 12th, 2016

      After getting those critical comments from Sarah Hoffman and Rachel Notley the poor man had his bacon cooked. I feel sorry for Mr. Mulcair. But no doubt he will be comforted by the next provincial election when the folks who were accusing him of politician wobble will also go down for their own politician wobble.

      Reply
  10. ronmac

    April 12th, 2016

    Maybe everybody is being too hard on Muclair. Sure he’s taking the blame for last year’s disasterous campaign which saw the NDP falling to 3rd place. But it was the campaign team around him which set the course and told Muclair to play it safe, be cautious, not ruffle too many feathers, stay the course, etc.

    Left to his own instincts maybe Muclair would have taken a few belts of whiskey and come out swinging. I guess we’ll never know.

    Reply
    • Gail

      April 12th, 2016

      The bigger question for me is when is the NDP going to ditch all the people in that disastrous campaign team? Poor Notley has been saddled with some of the ones who kept catching defeat from the jaws of victory in other provinces but hopefully she’s got the good sense to ignore them.

      It’s blatantly obvious the federal NDP is not interested in western issues and does not care to deal with its western members except when they want funds.

      Reply
  11. David

    April 12th, 2016

    I do think despite his shortcomings Mulcair is a very bright person. He probably did see his upcoming fate, although perhaps not until it was too late. I suspect that explains his lackluster effort in his speech and during the weekend to retain his job.

    However, I suspect he was surprised by getting under 50% and may have been expecting between 55% to 65% support. In some ways while getting under 50% is must feel like a bitter result, it is perhaps better to have a clear conclusion than being in a grey zone of say 65%.

    It is sort of ironic that the NDP, which in the past has been so kind and tolerant of leaders that have not done well in elections, dispatched this leader so quickly and unequivocally.

    Reply
  12. Athabascan

    April 12th, 2016

    Why didn’t he see it coming? Hubris is the reason.

    He could have saved us a Harper majority two elections ago, if he had set his ego aside for the good of the country. All he needed to do was cooperate with the Liberal party and field candidates strategically, so as not to split the vote – instead what did he do?

    This idiot and his massive ego tried to sell a Conservative budget during the last campaign. That would have meant another austerity budget being forced on Canadians. Imagine the NDP trying to promise us an austerity budget. Canadians didn’t believe him and rightfully so.

    Good riddance to Mulcair and his massive ego.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      April 12th, 2016

      Mulcair was not leading the NDP two elections ago, so I’m not sure what you expected him to do.

      Reply
      • Athabascan

        April 14th, 2016

        Yes he was!

        The last election we had was October 2015

        The one prior to that was in May 2011

        That’s two elections ago. He led the NDP to official opposition status due to the many seats won in Quebec.

        It’s his fault if Harper got a majority in 2011, and we all suffered for it.

        Reply
        • April 15th, 2016

          Question: Why is it Mulcair’s fault that voters were stupid enough to vote for Harper and we suffered for it?
          I doubt that Mulcair was responsible for the voting decisions of anyone.
          He’s a nice man and he has been bashed enough by the NDP folks and everyone else.
          In a few years from now when the NDP lose the next federal election with a new leader, you will all look back on this bad decision to knife Mulcair in the back and understand that he was a good man in a bungling political party.

          As for the provincial NDP, I can’t recognize them any more. They are Tory now. It’s a stunning change in policy and philosophy. Who would have thought that the NDP have reversed themselves in terms of energy, pollution and continuing care?
          The next provincial election is going to be a pretty sad one. I liked the NDP folks but they aren’t making change happen.
          When you don’t make change happen and people expected you to make change happen as I did in continuing care, it results in a lot of broken hearted voters. This usually ends up in an anything but NDP voting choice.
          I voted for the provincial and federal NDP this time around but I won’t be doing it again. I am surprised by the metamorphosis of the provincial NDP and I am saddened by the knifing by the federal NDP folks of one of the most intelligent politicians around.

          Reply
        • Chris

          April 16th, 2016

          Wasn’t some guy named “Layton” in charge during the 2011 election?

          Reply
  13. Hana Razga

    April 13th, 2016

    Federal NDP’s very own “kudatah”

    Reply

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