Party conventions are opportunities to demonstrate capabilities, unity and vision. The three-day provincial NDP convention that wrapped up Sunday did little in that regard. There is no sense it’s moved beyond the debacle of an inside-party revolt in 2015 and then destruction in last spring’s provincial election. Instead, it is a party that still remains deeply divided and in need of leadership.
The convention, held at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, began with interim leader Flor Marcelino calling for unity. Ovide Mercredi, the party president who did not seek re-election, also urged the party to come together. It is clear, however, divisions remain. Former MLA Theresa Oswald, who headed the internal revolt against then-premier Greg Selinger, was at the convention for mere minutes before a photo of her was tweeted out blaming her for the party’s loss.
A standing ovation to thank Selinger for his service Sunday was brief, with MLA Andrew Swan remaining seated. When asked why the member of Oswald’s so-called Gang of Five didn’t stand, Swan replied he was busy. He wasn’t the only one who was too busy. There were others who remained seated.
In September, a new leader will be chosen. It’s obvious MLA Wab Kinew is going to run. He was everywhere at the convention, glad-handing with party faithful — and on Sunday stepping up to the microphone to speak to resolutions in what can only be described as stump speeches. He was joined by former MLA Steve Ashton, who is also likely to run and also made a point of priming the crowd. If he does, it will be the third time Ashton has attempted to win the leadership. He lost twice to Selinger. Meanwhile, the only declared candidate, union representative Michelle McHale made a point of getting to know the delegates.
Saturday was spent debating the ins and outs of how the next leader will be determined, which quickly became mired in process, causing one delegate to yell in frustration: "We have too many rules and not enough action." That summed it up for many.
This is the party that was in power for nearly 17 years. It is the party considered by many to be Manitoba’s natural governing party. It is now a party that spent a weekend morning arguing about how to elect a leader and then sticking with the status quo, with one small exception — is the length of time one must hold a party membership in order to vote.
It is now the party that hasn’t found its ground game as the official opposition, with an interim leader who is weak and completely ineffectual. It’s the party that badly handled sexual-harrassment complaints involving Maples MLA Mohinder Saran before it finally kicked him out of caucus.
It is now the party that has faced criticism from a longtime supporter because of the manner in which it held the nominations for Point Douglas, a riding held by Kevin Chief, who resigned his seat, despite being considered by many a frontrunner to replace Selinger. The nomination was shut down early, acclaiming Bernadette Smith as the NDP candidate, much to stalwart supporter Sel Burrows’ dismay. He suggested when you hold a nomination contest, you build momentum for the party.
Unity remains ephemeral for the NDP, which is rudderless and lacking vision and capabilities. It will elect a new leader like it did the last, and likely to the same end — to end up in opposition.