PHOTOS: Candidate Niki Ashton, in Edmonton during the 2012 NDP leadership race. (Photo: Olav Rokne.) Below: Charlie Angus, Jagmeet Singh, Guy Caron and the late Jack Layton. (Photos: All from the Wikimedia Commons.)

Like a rural highway through northern Alberta, the federal New Democratic Party’s leadership race has seemed long, slow, and not particularly interesting.

There’s always the possibility a moose will dash out in front of your pickup truck,* but mainly it’s just been the sight of trees whizzing past, kilometre after interminable kilometre.

With Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government holding down by far the most seats in the Legislative Building in Edmonton, a busy United Conservative opposition party sucking up all the oxygen in the media, and an Alberta election beginning to loom, you’d think the federal NDP race that may end today would have been the subject of intense interest in Alberta political circles, and not just on the government side.

Instead … not so much.

This is partly by accident – it’s not 2012 any more. That is to say, New Democrats, in Alberta and elsewhere, are no longer in shock at the death of Jack Layton, the leader who the year before brought them to the threshold of government in Ottawa. The future doesn’t look as bright as it did when NDPers picked the disappointing Thomas Mulcair to replace him. Justin Trudeau is prime minister.

It’s partly by design. It’s obviously been made clear to Ms. Notley’s 55-member caucus they should stay the heck away from candidate endorsements or campaign roles – especially since, as of right now, it doesn’t seem as if there’s a single potential leader among the four candidates likely to be much help to the Notley Government’s political need to support pipeline development outside the province.

A few hints of a friendlier attitude by some seem to have vanished with the cold reality of the prevailing views of voters in other provinces, especially those in the NDP universe.

Meanwhile, over at Alberta’s United Conservative Party, former Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean are still theoretically battling over the leadership, and so have other fish to fry. An increasingly confident Mr. Kenney is starting to take more aggressive shots at the NDP, however, and we can expect more of this soon.

Still, the fact Canada’s NDPers are possibly going to choose one of Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Guy Caron or Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh as leader today, is for a lot of Alberta New Democrats at bit like that metaphorical moose in the first paragraph rising out of a swamp and hurtling across the highway in front of their pickup.*

Could any of them, upon assuming the leadership of the national party, be pushed toward supporting the Alberta NDP’s pipe (line) dreams? Only if there are the votes in other provinces, and that seems like a diminishing prospect for a national party.

But not having a candidate to vote for who is likely to particularly enhance the prospects for the Alberta NDP may have had a liberating effect for Alberta New Democrats.

If they’re so inclined, they can vote for the candidate they think most likely to poach from the Liberals’ traditional voter base, including Canada’s large immigrant communities. Say, Mr. Singh.

If they think they can make it happen, they can vote for a candidate they think is most likely to swing left and duplicate the feats Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Say, Ms. Ashton.

Or maybe they’ll plump for the traditional relationship with working people, as Mr. Angus suggests, or for a strong voice in Quebec, where the party had its breakthrough in 2011 and where Mr. Caron represents constituents.

Savvy Alberta New Democrats who want to help their provincial party’s prospects will support the candidate they think is most likely to focus on things that will have a positive impact on Alberta and Albertans over the longer term, like support for public services, a responsible national revenue policy, and reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians.

If any candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote on the party’s preferential, ranked ballots today, that will add up to victory. If none of them do, another vote will commence, with voting ending on Oct. 8. If there’s still no winner, the process repeats, with the ballots counted on Oct. 15. Conventional wisdom says Mr. Singh will come first today.

* This is Alberta, people.

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  1. Mr Singh talks a good game and is a fresh face, but in my view, he just hasn’t paid his dues. He is an out-of-the-GTA newbie who has been anointed by the punditocracy, but has felt no need to do any apprenticeship in federal politics, instead coming from the obscurity (at least outside the centre of the universe) of Queen’s Park to contend for the leadership of the federal NDP (for the record, I didn’t vote for Jack either; my pick that year was Bill Blaikie).

    My pick this time is Charlie Angus, who has been the least unfriendly towards Alberta’s most pivotal industry and who IMHO has the working-class chops to bring the NDP back to its roots. I also like a lot of what M Caron has to say, especially his plank on guaranteed annual income.

    Ms Ashton has a lot of good ideas and is an unabashed socialist, a rarer animal in today’s NDP than you might think, but her greatest appeal is to a demographic cohort, millennials, that doesn’t vote, and she is overtly hostile to Premier Notley’s more moderate balancing act of environmentally-responsible pipeline politics.

    It’ll be an interesting result to watch this afternoon.

  2. The election result under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership was doubtlessly disappointing for NDPers, but that shouldn’t be blamed on him. Mulcair was a victim of circumstance, if anything: nothing he could have said or done would have saved those thirty-odd Quebec seats. Instead of blaming Mulcair, like most Dippers did (shamefully, in my view), he should have been hailed for retaining sixteen of them where, before Jack Layton’s anomalous victory, there was virtually no NDP presence in Quebec, at least not that voters considered legitimate or viable. That was a very significant achievement for Mulcair—and for the NDP because, in the province with the most sophisticated voters in the country, legitimacy puts the NDP in play in every election from now on.

    Some of us have noticed how stale the characterization of Quebec’s electorate is still made out to be by political observers: they reiterate the rote notions that Quebec is hopelessly parochial, rabidly nationalist, and palpably racist. Yet at every turn that can be quantified (like counted votes, regional candidacies, etc.), pundits are surprised to see young voters and ethnic voters coming to the fore. One of Mulcair’s accolades should relate to his mentoring of an extremely young Quebec caucus, most of whom did not expect to win a seat (one was on holidays on election night, one was the youngest MP ever elected in Canada) while maintaining an impressive diplomacy between the upstart wing—which then comprised the majority in caucus—-and the traditional wing out West. Jagmeet Singh, with his religious symbol wrapped about his head, attracted a lot of Quebec support in the leadership race (by now he has won on the first ballot), despite how supposedly racist Quebec looked when Mulcair decried Harper’s demagogic, anti-niqab campaign tactic and promptly lost about 20% of the NDP’s Quebec support; contrast that with the fact that anti-racist protesters recently braved attacks and arrest by Quebec police to get their counter protest noticed, and to bust the prejudice that all Quebecers, or even most of them, are racist.

    Mulcair’s election loss has been as misinterpreted as the now-busted mischaracterizations of Quebec voters. Let’s remember the difficulty he faced following Layton, a politician so classy he got a state funeral, the first for a mere Official Opposition leader: a very hard act to follow, for sure. Let’s recall Mulcair’s sterling performance in the Commons where he skewered Harper with riveting, but civil, precision. Acknowledge that he put the NDP at number one in popularity for the first time ever, and held that position right into the election campaign.

    I don’t think Harper’s extra long campaign period was primarily meant to disadvantage his rivals (rather, I think he did that to meet any fallout from the concurrent Duffy trial, and massage his shrinking base whilst they were locked up in closed rallies), but he seriously underestimated JT’s ability to grow support from third place, given the extra time to build momentum. It was hardly Mulcair’s fault that the extra long campaign would tire his first-place position where there’s little room to grow and everybody’s out to pick you off. What could he possibly have done about that?

    Some would say he should have changed course mid-campaign and swerve way left. Presumably these were the same people who decried his supposed move to the right—by way of contrasting their opinion, I suppose. But Mulcair’s platform was prudent, not right-wing, and he would have been irresponsible not to take the surest path to victory, given that his rivals constantly criticized the NDP’s supposed lack of fiscal prudence.

    I can appreciate Dippers’ frustration—I felt it myself; but it was never lost on me that those Quebec seats and Layton’s success were achieved in the vacuum the Liberals had left after their internal warfare and executive-appointed leader (who turned out to be a dud), and that once JT was elected by Liberal party members, the party would rebound to some extent that would have cut into the NDP’s vote share, no matter what. The astounding 18% increase of the youth vote, and their willingness to get rid of Harper by organizing on tactical-voting websites, might have gone awry because most of these were inexperienced, first-time voters. I think a significant number of them mistook national polling numbers—an averaging of the so-called “popular vote”—for riding numbers upon which correct strategic-voting calculation should have been made. This easily understood error effectively manifest as a bandwagon effect for JT and his Liberals. But most Dippers would rather throw a tantrum than award Mulcair his due.

    Mulcair couldn’t hold a candle to Layton, but he did win the second-highest number of seats in the NDP’s history. And more importantly, he persevered in Quebec, retaining a healthy caucus there that can be built on to the party’s great advantage. The fact that the leadership attracted a good run by Guy Charon, a Quebecer, is one testimony to Mulcair’s success and achievement.

    But I don’t blame him for not showing up in Toronto for Jagmeet’s announcement. Not one bit.

    The disappointment I felt was with the party, not the leader. They scapegoated someone who’d helped them with a solid legacy and good leadership. I thought it was a shame.

    1. I think the NDP got a raw deal on the niqab issue in 2015, since JT & the Liberals were just as vocal in their opposition to the HarperCons’ proposed ban. But the NDP’s problem in Quebec goes deeper than just one election. The fundamental problem in Quebec is structural: until very recently, the left, including the labour movement, in Quebec was almost exclusively sovereigntist, and at the provincial level found its home in the PQ. This means that there was, and maybe still is, no real political space for a provincial NDP in Quebec. Since the federal NDP’s membership arises directly from the provincial & territorial wings, the lack of a provincial wing in La Belle Province really hobbles the party there.

      Congratulations to Mr Singh. Even though I didn’t support him, he did get 54% on the first ballot, an absolute majority in a 4-person race: quite an accomplishment. I hope we do not find the party’s evident enthusiasm for him to be misplaced.

  3. I’m hopeful that the Alberta NDP will get out in front of the assault on reason that the Saturday night “crazy kid with a car” ISIS attack on Edmonton will empower. Merkel managed in Germany. Notley is in her league. My fingers are crossed!

  4. There is a huge difference between the Notley NDP’ers in Alberta and the Federal NDP’ers.

    I see Notley as offering Albertans a Liberal alternative vs. an NDP alternative. This, plus 10 years of Conservative mismanagement, is the reason why she got my vote in the last election. I will most probably support her again.

    Jason Kenney’s actions, comments, and lack of defined policies have convinced me that his party needs to remain in penalty box through the next election. Besides, I have no desire to vote for a party that appears dominated and squarely focused on the interest of the religious right minority to the detriment of all Albertans.

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