Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The NDP's future on the line

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The NDP leadership campaign has brought the party's traditional fault lines into sharper relief, but there is no indication the race to replace Jack Layton will end in disunity and division.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent contributed to the appearance of a pending problem when he said front-runner Thomas Mulcair would be a disastrous choice because he would move the party to the centre of the political spectrum. Mr. Broadbent supports Brian Topp, a more traditional New Democrat, who is trailing in the polls.

Mr. Broadbent said the NDP caucus might fracture if Mr. Mulcair, who helped the party win its breakthrough in Quebec, is elected. For his part, Mr. Mulcair believes a centrist approach is needed to expand the party's base in the West, while holding onto Quebec.

Ideological disagreements are not uncommon in any political party, and the NDP has had its share since it was founded in 1961 to replace the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

The central identity crisis of the NDP has revolved around the question of whether it should embrace policies that would appeal to a plurality of Canadians at election time, or whether it should stick to its socialist principles in the hope voters would eventually recognize their self-interest lay in voting NDP.

Some party members also believe their only salvation is a merger with the Liberal party, but the idea does not appear to be popular as the party prepares for its convention in Toronto this week.

Unlike other recent political conventions, the NDP event will be interesting because no candidate is likely to win on a first ballot, according to a recent internal survey.

Mr. Mulcair is in first place with the support of 25 per cent of New Democrats, followed by Peggy Nash (17 per cent) and Paul Dewar (15). Mr. Topp trails a distant fifth. There will almost certainly be a second and even third ballot before a leader is selected.

The uncertainty over who will win is another reason why the rhetoric has been amplified by people such as Mr. Broadbent, but there is no reason to doubt the party will come together after a new leader is elected.

The party has suffered since the death of Mr. Layton, with its support down across the country, but where it goes from here will depend entirely on the ability of the new leader to craft a party that performs effectively in Parliament and strives to appeal to all Canadians.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2012 A10

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