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Who Stands Where on Mulcair's Leadership?

As convention nears, a primer on what New Dems and progressives have said.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 8 Apr 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.

Members of the New Democratic Party gather in Edmonton this weekend to, among other things, review how the party fell from looking like it may form government to third party status in the House of Commons.

One major issue to be resolved at the NDP convention is the fate of leader Thomas Mulcair, who faces a scheduled leadership review.

Delegates will vote on Mulcair's continued leadership Sunday. In order to remain leader, Mulcair has said he wants around 70 per cent of support of delegates in the vote.

The party only requires 51 per cent in support for him to stay on, but there are fears that a number that low could divide the party.

How average NDP supporters feel about Mulcair is a big question -- at last week's progressive Broadbent Summit in Ottawa, Mulcair's ability to lead the party was a frequent topic among attendees.

But in recent weeks a number of high-profile New Democrats and leaders of the progressive movement have come forward to air their views on the matter, which we've compiled below.

Their opinions come from various news sources, statements or direct queries from The Tyee.

A number of party members did not share their opinion with The Tyee, perhaps an indication of the political risks posed by staking out a definite position on loyalty to the current leadership before the weekend's result are in.

THOSE WHO SUPPORT MULCAIR

Peter Julian, NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster

Long-time Burnaby NDP MP Peter Julian recently penned a letter published in The Tyee expressing staunch support for Mulcair. Julian argued the NDP leader was personally responsible for the defeat of the Conservatives due to his battery of Stephen Harper as opposition leader since 2011.

"Tom has been called the best opposition leader of the past half-century by some," Julian wrote. "I have seen first-hand how effective he has been in the House of Commons. I know he is effective, eloquent, and determined to hold a new Liberal government to account for what seems to be an almost pathological ability to break promises made during the recent election."

Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor

The leader of Canada's largest private-sector union offered a compromise. Jerry Dias told Elizabeth Thompson of iPolitics that the party should wait and see how Mulcair is doing two years from now.

"If the leader can't move the polls beyond 11.7 per cent then we're going to have to do something dramatically different, that's for sure," Dias said.

Dias said the progressive movement needs to make the decision of leadership with a "clear head" and so soon after the election may not be the ideal time.

Jinny Sims, former NDP MP for Surrey-Newton

Sims said she doesn't think New Democrats can put the blame for the disappointing election results squarely on Mulcair.

She said the party's campaign messaging wasn't "sprightly" enough, but that the NDP's work in opposition is what did the heavy lifting to oust the Conservatives.

Sims said Mulcair was a key figure in that parliamentary work, and that's one of the reasons he should stay.

"I think we'd have to go a long way to find anyone as good as he is in the House," she said. "Right now, where we are as a party, I think that's what we need -- him in the House, rebuilding the party."

Sims said the NDP has nothing to gain from a leadership race now, and the party should see what happens down the road. Besides, she asked, who would replace Mulcair?

"I have yet to hear anybody who is opposing Tom put forward an alternative," she said.

Ken Georgetti, former Canadian Labour Congress president

On Tuesday, The Tyee published an op-ed by Ken Georgetti who expressed support for Mulcair.

Georgetti argued it was "flaky" strategic voters, not the strategy employed by Mulcair's team, which prevented the NDP from at least maintaining the gains it made in 2011.

He said most of the blame belongs to soft NDP supporters who rallied behind the Liberals just to oust Harper.

"It's quite entertaining to watch these so-called New Democrats patting themselves on the back, taking credit for getting rid of the Harper Conservatives, while in the same breath solely blaming the leader for the NDP's poor showing," Georgetti wrote.

Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley

Weeks ago, one of the most recognizable MPs for the NDP, Nathan Cullen, wrote an extensive op-ed for the website National Newswatch, declaring his support for Mulcair.

Many New Democrats have suggested that Cullen, first elected in 2004, could be a potential candidate to lead the party.

But that's not going to happen anytime soon, according to Cullen, who said his support for Mulcair was rooted in the leader's belief that the party should fight on inequality issues.

"These are the very themes NDP leader Tom Mulcair touched on at our recent caucus retreat," Cullen wrote. "His clear and principled path forward is the reason why I am supporting Tom as our leader."

THOSE CALLING FOR CHANGE

Hassan Yussuff, current Canadian Labour Congress president

Yussuff told The Globe and Mail earlier this week that he thinks Mulcair must go, blaming him for losing the best chance at winning government the party has ever had.

On top of that, Yussuff pointed to a big drop in recent polls.

"The fact is the party is at 11 per cent in the polls, we lost the largest number of seats under Tom's leadership, and we lost the opportunity to form government," he said.

Yussuff's rebuke of Mulcair is the strongest to come from any high-profile labour leader.

NDP student organizations in Montreal

The NDP student organizations at both McGill and Concordia University took calls from Montreal-area party members for a renewal in the party one step further last month, and demanded Mulcair resign.

"The last election was a bit of a mess in terms of being too centrist and appealing to the popular vote and moving away from what we stand for as the NDP," Casarina Hocevar, co-chair of the McGill NDP, said.

"Largely we think it has to do with a disconnect between leadership and members of the party."

The students said they fear that with Mulcair at the head of the party it will become irrelevant in Canadian politics, because it will not represent the left.

THOSE WHO ARE UNDECIDED

Peggy Nash, former NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park

On Tuesday, former NDP MP Peggy Nash published a column in The Huffington Post reviewing the campaign.

She said that the party's election strategy was "tone deaf" and that it must "boldly rebuild" or risk irrelevance.

"Many have commented on the failure of the Leader to answer questions on the opening day of the campaign, the failure to debate unless the PM was present, and generally the failure to inspire Canadians. I agree," she wrote.

But she said she would wait and see what Mulcair has to say this weekend before deciding if he should stay or go.

She ended with: "Canada needs the NDP to build a truly progressive, sustainable, inclusive and fair Canada. The NDP urgently needs the leader who can get us there."

Elaine Michaud, former NDP MP for Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier, current candidate for party president

Michaud was one of more than 35 Montreal-area organizers and former MPs who signed a letter published in Le Devoir calling for a change in direction for the NDP.

The letter called for renewal based on the party's "founding values," saying the NDP had strayed from its roots of a party focused on social equality.

But, Michaud said, despite signing the letter she still hasn't made up her mind about Mulcair's future and is waiting until the convention to decide.

"I'm still questioning my vote," she said. "I'm going to wait to hear Tom Mulcair's speech and see what his vision is for the future and how he thinks we can move forward."

The New Democratic Youth of Canada

Earlier this week, the New Democratic Youth of Canada sent a letter to media calling for a change in leadership style. The letter does not mention Mulcair.

The youth wing of the party wrote it was disappointed with the platform the NDP released for the last election, and said it was not one that Canadian youth could support.

"We feel the responsibility for a failure to inspire our generation to the polls rests squarely with the uninspired, and problematic platform that many of us were asked to champion," read the letter.

"We argued against the legalization of marijuana, against the inclusion of other parties in debates, against our leader's participation in a debate on women's issues, and defended our non-position on hydraulic fracturing."

The letter accused the party of using youth as "window dressing for promotional materials" and said renewal for the party must start from the bottom up.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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