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Opinion

NDP's dragging heels hampers future leadership

John Woods / The Canadian Press File</p><p>Nahanni Fontaine, an NDP MLA.</p></p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press File

Nahanni Fontaine, an NDP MLA.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/1/2017 (680 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Procrastination can be costly.

When you put off until tomorrow the things that could be done today, you often end up in a rush to get everything done. And that means the quality of the end result is severely compromised.

Although many of us know about the cost of procrastination from our own painful experiences, others never seem to learn. Those others include the Manitoba New Democratic Party.

In March, the NDP will gather for its annual policy convention and annual general meeting, at which point the rules for the September 2017 leadership convention will be set. This is a pivotal moment in the evolution of the NDP, the first real opportunity to start the process of rebuilding a party that, following 17 years in power, was decimated in the April 2016 election.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/1/2017 (680 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Procrastination can be costly.

When you put off until tomorrow the things that could be done today, you often end up in a rush to get everything done. And that means the quality of the end result is severely compromised.

Although many of us know about the cost of procrastination from our own painful experiences, others never seem to learn. Those others include the Manitoba New Democratic Party.

In March, the NDP will gather for its annual policy convention and annual general meeting, at which point the rules for the September 2017 leadership convention will be set. This is a pivotal moment in the evolution of the NDP, the first real opportunity to start the process of rebuilding a party that, following 17 years in power, was decimated in the April 2016 election.

TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN FILES</p><p>James Allum</p>

TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN FILES

James Allum

However, the NDP moved at a glacial pace when it came to setting rules and a date for the next leadership vote. Many within the party executive and provincial council wanted rules in place last fall, to give leadership candidates at least a year to organize their campaigns. By pushing back the establishment of new ground rules until this March, the NDP has created a very untenable timetable for prospective candidates.

One thing seems certain: the next leadership vote will look a lot different than the one held in March 2016, when former Premier Greg Selinger was forced to fight to retain his position as party leader after a group of cabinet ministers called for his resignation. That convention — fought under a fairly traditional delegate system — was fraught with problems.

An internal committee reviewing leadership convention rules put forward two possible new systems in mid-December: one is a modified one-member, one-vote system that awards points to constituencies based on total memberships, and caps the total number of points; the second proposal is for a proportional representation process where the number of delegates would be assigned based on total memberships in any one constituency. Those two proposals, plus a number of others that are expected to be put forward by individual riding associations, will be debated and voted on at the March policy convention.

Those aren’t the only changes being considered. The NDP will look at measures that will dramatically decrease labour’s influence on the party by ending the practice of allotting automatic blocks of delegates to individual unions. It is likely that unions will only be given delegates based on the number of party members in their ranks, rather than total number of union members.

However, the most impactful proposal under consideration is the one that would extend the period of time an individual would have to have been a party member before being eligible to vote for leader to 90 days from the current 30 days. If accepted by the NDP membership at the March gathering, that one change would limit the amount of time candidates have to sell memberships before the September leadership convention.

John Woods / The Canadian Press File</p><p>Manitoba NDP MLA Wab Kinew.</p></p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press File

Manitoba NDP MLA Wab Kinew.

The 90-day provision would mean that to be eligible to vote for leader, an individual party member would have to have purchased a membership no later than mid-June, roughly 90 days after the March policy convention.

Membership sales are the lifeblood of leadership campaigns. Enlisting existing members and recruiting new members to contest riding by riding delegate votes is a monumental logistical challenge. And three months is hardly enough time to sell the memberships and raise donations necessary to sustain a functional leadership campaign.

This compressed timeline is the direct result of a party that could not move in a timely fashion to address the shortcomings in its leadership process. Now, the party may have to face the fact its procrastination, along with a series of scandals ravaging the elected caucus, may drive quality candidates out of the race.

At the moment, more potential candidates have bowed out than have stepped forward to indicate their interest in the leadership.

The party was rocked last month when MLA Kevin Chief, the consensus pick for next leader, announced he was leaving politics altogether. Chief has decided to pursue opportunities in the private sector to allow him to spend more time with his young family.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press File</p><p>Matt Wiebe, the NDP Party Caucus Chair.</p></p>

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press File

Matt Wiebe, the NDP Party Caucus Chair.

In the wake of that somewhat shocking development, no one has actually indicated a strong interest in the job. MLAs Wab Kinew and Nahanni Fontaine are rumoured to be interested, although sources say only one of the two will run. Other sources say MLAs Matt Wiebe and James Allum are weighing possible leadership bids.

Outside the party, education activist Michelle McHale and Rebecca Blaikie, former federal NDP president and a member of Winnipeg’s influential Blaikie political clan, are also rumoured to be scoping out potential support.

The question is whether any of these candidates have the time to find the resources to organize a viable leadership bid. And, frankly, whether any of them will want the job.

Everyone is still awaiting word on the fate of Maples MLA Mohinder Saran, who was suspended from caucus after it was learned he was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint from a female party staffer. The party only has said caucus will vote sometime this month on whether to reinstate Saran, give him a longer suspension or kick him out of the party altogether.

There are also questions about whether interim leader Flor Marcelino will continue in her role. She severely botched the Saran scandal, waiting weeks before revealing the allegations to caucus. Marcelino also inadvertently identified the victim of the sexual harassment in an email sent to the Free Press. Party sources say they expect some in caucus to ask for her to step down.

The NDP is in a bad way right now. It is running well behind the ruling Progressive Conservatives in opinion polls, the result perhaps of a horrible performance during its first few months as official opposition. A failure to deal decisively with Saran and Marcelino will only drag the party down even further.

Add all that baggage to the untenable leadership timetable created by the party executive’s dithering, and you are left with a single, overarching question.

Who in the world would want the job of leading this party?

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 7:46 AM CST: Adds photos

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