Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) must revel in its mediocrity. It enjoys it. It continues to promote it. Nothing will help it preserve its mediocrity more that the way it is choosing its new leader. By using preferential voting, the party is attempting to ensure that no candidate can use charisma or rhetoric to win over the other candidates.
When the convention meets at Exhibition Park in Toronto in March, they hope most of the party members across Canada will have already voted. The party members will have indicated their first, second and maybe third or even fourth choice for party leader. They also have the right to vote for just one candidate but why not indicate more?
Even with six weeks to go before the convention, we know that it is unlikely for anyone to have a first ballot victory. The facts are that there are five of the candidates in the race sharing the bulk of the votes. All guesses, whether by the seat of the pants or scientific research, tell us that nobody seems to have more than about 25 per cent of the support. That means that second choice support is critical to winning. Only if the convention goes beyond three votes will the people at the convention and those voting on-line by Internet, at each ballot, make the final decision.
Looking at the leading candidates’ ability to round up secondary support on the pre-convention ballots can give us some of the possible answers.
Many people expect Brian Topp to get the most first ballot support. He has the party leadership support because this is the level in which he works. He has some union support but the union he heads, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Actors (ACTRA) is not widely known and it is hardly a pick and shovel union. He has little chance of heavy second preference support.
Thomas Mulcair comes on as the challenger but the party has no huge base of supporters in Quebec and he is not well known outside that province. His best bet is if it goes to a third ballot and the people voting that day come to understand what drives him. He will pick up votes from the convention and on-line but he will be weak in second preferences from the early voters.
In the same way, British Columbia’s Nathan Cullen will have to make his effort on the first ballot. He would have to come very close to Brian Topp in the first ballot to remain in the race for long. His base in B.C. is not big enough, though he appeals to the younger delegates because of his ideas. He has little potential for secondary votes.
Paul Dewar is going to get some support fromEastern Ontario but no degree of secondary support could take him beyond 15 per cent of the vote.
The one person who can really benefit from the secondary votes is MP Peggy Nash. She walks away with the feminist vote and shares a sizeable part of the Ontario base of the party. Because of her comeback last year against Liberal star Gerard Kennedy, she will be very strong in the second vote showing. She also shows very solid union support and that all comes to growth in the second ballot. She might not have the pizzazz to win through a fourth ballot but we will see what she can do in three.
With almost six weeks to go, there is opportunity for a breakthrough but nobody expects it in a convention geared to mediocrity. Heavy pre-convention balloting will be what to watch for. A large advance vote will ensure a mediocre choice. If advance voting is light, all bets are off. In that case it will be the convention attendees along with the Internet voters who make the final decision.
Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry
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