Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP glass half empty, half full?

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Thomas Mulcair got what he needed from rank and file New Democrats at their leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday -- a strong, clear mandate to lead the party that "Jack" built into the official Opposition a year ago.

Or at least that is how it appears.

Mr. Mulcair was a front runner from beginning to end of the NDP's interminable leadership race. He led on each of the four weekend ballots, building on clear initial strength in a seven-candidate field, and concluding with almost 60 per cent of the ballots cast. That result served at once to demonstrate that he is the unequivocal choice as leader of the party, which nevertheless showed it is not about to abandon its roots by giving strong support on the final ballot to the darling of the old-guard, Brian Topp.

It was important, too, that it was New Democrats in the rest of Canada that put Mr. Mulcair over the top. While Jack Layton lifted the NDP to official Opposition by winning an astonishing 57 seats in Quebec a year ago, the fact remains that card-carrying supporters are relatively few and far between in the province -- only about 12,000 of 120,000 voters eligible to vote on the weekend were Quebecers.

That he can win broad support from New Democrats across Canada does not, of course, mean that he will win broad support in an election. But it is a good indicator that he might, a possibility underlined by a poll last week that found New Democrats tied with the federal Conservatives (a perhaps giddy result given the media attention focused on the convention). An earlier poll, meanwhile, found that a majority of Canadians believe the NDP could govern Canada -- a notion unthinkable outside the party throughout its long history.

All of which amounts to what the NDP glass looks like half full.

The half-empty glass finds that although 120,000 New Democrats were eligible to vote on the weekend, only half of them bothered. And even if 100 per cent of the Quebec delegate voted, there are only 12,000 of them, and at that they amount to 8,000 fewer than Mr. Mulcair set as his goal for memberships at the start of the race.

And while a national poll finds the NDP neck and neck with the Conservatives, in Quebec the party has been steadily shedding support since the untimely death of Jack Layton, known as a "compassionate" "consensus builder" compared to the "mercurial" "pitbull" that Mr. Mulcair presents.

Nevertheless, today marks only the second full day of Mr. Mulcair's leadership. He starts from a position of advantage unprecedented in the annals of federal NDP leaders. It should prove riveting to watch what he does with it over the next three years.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2012 A10

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