Six locals who could become the NDP’s next leader
The federal NDP has never had a leader from Vancouver. Is it time for it to break that streak?
April 12, 2016
On Sunday, the members of the federal New Democratic Party who had gathered in Edmonton put an end to their convention by putting an end to Tom Mulcair’s time as party leader. In a stunning turn of events, more than half of the assembled delegates—52 per cent, to be precise—voted in favour of a leadership review, the highest proportion to ever vote against a leader in Canadian political history. Mulcair tried to spin it as positively as he could, telling delegates that “the disappointment from the election obviously is something we’re now going to be able to leave behind us with a change at the helm.”
Unfortunately for NDP stalwarts, their party may merely be trading disappointment for uncertainty—roiling uncertainty, even. That’s because the convention also featured a contentious vote on the so-called Leap manifesto, one that would have bound the party to a commitment to reject pipeline projects and quickly move away from fossil fuels (and was therefore understandably unpopular in Alberta). And while the party ultimately voted to move the discussion around the manifesto to the riding level, it stands to reason that it will continue to do more to divide New Democrats than unite them—particularly given that, after Manitoba’s election on April 19, the only NDP government left in the country will be located in Alberta.
What does this mean for Vancouver? Nothing, really. But with a leadership race now set for either late 2017 or 2018, there’s going to be plenty of jockeying for the party’s top job—and given the role that environmental issues appear set to play in that race, the winning jockey could easily come from our back yard. With that in mind, we thought we’d moot the candidacy of a few local politicians, along with their expected —and entirely unscientific—odds of actually winning the thing.
Will run because: She’s young, she’s smart, she’s talented, and she knows all about how to organize and empower people. No, she didn’t win Vancouver-Granville in the recent federal election, but it’s safe to assume that if there had been a less disastrous national campaign—or, perhaps, a less impressive one for Justin Trudeau—the outcome would have been different. But it’s unlikely that will stop Oreck, who works at the Broadbent Institute as their director of public engagement, from taking another run at public office. And if the federal New Democrats are looking for their own Barack Obama—a younger, under-the-radar candidate who is capable of surprising everyone—it’s probably Mira Oreck. That’s kind of fitting, given that she worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Won’t run because: She has better options elsewhere—or decides to pass on a leadership race that could prove to be an ideological meat grinder. [Ed’s note: Or because she’s having a baby in July, which is something we found out after this post went live. Still, if the NDP really wanted to double down on the importance of a national daycare program (and build a platform around it) then picking a young mother as its new leader would be an intriguing strategy.]
Will run because: Everybody loves a good redemption story, and there’s nobody in the NDP family who people would like to see redeemed more than Svend Robinson. His illustrious career ended in 2004 after he admitted to stealing an expensive ring at an auction (something that was deemed the result of a stress-related breakdown; Robinson was later diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder), but the conditions couldn’t be better for a Robinson comeback. As the first openly gay MP and a self-described socialist—one with clearly articulated views on everything from foreign policy to income inequality—Robinson has the kind of left-wing credentials members seem to be looking for.
Won’t run because: At 64 years old, and having already spent 25 of them in the House of Commons, Robinson may not be interested in making the kind of sacrifices required to run for public office—particularly those that are demanded of party leaders.
Will run because: He’s bilingual, an experienced and popular member of an increasingly fractured caucus and a very capable parliamentarian. As the member for Burnaby-New Wesminster since 2004, he’s served as the NDP’s critic for everything from finance to energy and current serves as its house leader.
Won’t run because: Anyone who looks like Thomas Mulcair (the older white male part, not the bearded part) may face an uphill climb in a race where members are almost certainly going to be looking for something new and different. And as one of the party’s more moderate members, Julian may not appeal to a membership that seems to want to find its own Jeremy Corbyn.
Will run because: Few elected officials in this country have better credentials when it comes to fighting for the environment than Robertson, and as a former provincial NDP MLA he has at least some kinship with the federal party. The fact that he faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign in 2018 might also encourage him to step away from the civic scene while he’s still on top.
Won’t run because: That kinship with the federal NDP isn’t nearly close enough. Robertson is deeply connected with the federal Liberal Party—witness the recent move of Braden Caley, his former communications director, to the Liberal Party of Canada’s national office in Ottawa. And as a pro-business, pro-development moderate, Robertson might not appeal to the NDP’s increasingly vocal base.
Will run because: As the former MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and recently elected MP for Vancouver East, Kwan represents a riding that is almost a microcosm of her party’s membership. As a Chinese-Canadian woman, her ability to bring new and different voices to the table would be a valuable asset. And as one of the key engineers behind the provincial caucus revolt that turfed out former BC NDP leader Carole James, she’s no stranger to the darker arts of political maneuvering.
Won’t run because: Her French isn’t particularly strong, and she’s still a relative newcomer to the federal caucus. And if she passed on taking a run at the provincial leadership after helping push Carole James out, it’s hard to see why she’d now want to step up in a federal race in which she’d be a relative unknown.
Will run because: His stand against Kinder Morgan has raised his profile on both a local and national level, and his anti-pipeline advocacy could play well in a race where they become a litmus test for many NDP members.
Won’t run because: See above. The days of old white men leading the NDP are almost certainly in the past—at least, they probably ought to be. More importantly, the fight with Kinder Morgan that has made him a hero to many in Burnaby isn’t over yet—indeed, it may have only just begun.