Some Thoughts on the NDP Leadership Debate

Yesterday’s debate between the nine NDP leadership hopefuls did not provide much in the way of surprises.

Thomas Mulcair came across well in that he demonstrated his ability to speak like a real person rather than a robotic, awkwardly gesticulating politician.  (This does not automatically make someone a more suitable choice for prime minister, but it is a relevant consideration in party leadership races, because it impacts a candidate’s electability.  In other words, it shouldn’t matter, but it does.)  Mulcair also said nothing to jeopardize his environmental reputation, but I am still uneasy about his rightward leanings on issues like trade.

Brian Topp, the perceived front-runner, came across mostly as capable but uninteresting — with the exception of his perplexing attempt to shake things up with Paul Dewar.  During one brief exchange, he relentlessly accused Dewar of planning to dramatically increase government debt in order to pay for promised spending, without acknowledging Dewar’s pledge to raise revenue by reversing recent corporate tax cuts.  It is true that these party leadership contests often wind up looking more like love-ins than debates, so good on Topp for trying to do something different I guess.  But the way he did it came across as a bit petty.

I had some hopes for Romeo Saganash, given his impressive background and his status as the only First Nations person to seek leadership of a major federal political party in Canada.  Unfortunately, he came across as a bit too nervous, and I cringed slightly when he dismissed the idea of raising income taxes.

So far the candidates who impress me most in this race are Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen.  Nash has strong progressive and environmental credentials, which I thought stood out subtly in a debate in which not much was noticeable.  And Cullen, like Mulcair, had a natural way of speaking (even cracking a few jokes), which might be advantageous during a general election.  Futhermore, he had already begun to distinguish himself prior to the debate by staking out unique positions in favour of joint nomination meetings with the Liberals and Greens, and a referendum on ditching the monarchy — both positions that make sense to me.

So at this early stage in the race, even though I am a member of a different party, Nash and Cullen are the New Democrats I’m rooting for.  At any rate, they are certainly worth keeping an eye on.