Sunday, March 25, 2012

#ndpldr pics, video and a few thoughts

It was a very long Saturday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre -- about 12 hours for me, longer for others -- for the NDP to arrive at what, for many, was an inevitable result: the election of Thomas Mulcair as their new leader. With Mulcair set to take his seat as leader of the official opposition Monday, only one party in the House of Commons still lacks a permanent leader.

The weekend itself was an odd one, featuring some of the elements of a traditional delegated leadership convention: the candidate showcases, the war rooms, the swag, the flash mobs, the vote line-ups. But it was also very different: people were also voting online across the country, and many more had voted well in advance of the weekend. What this was, largely, was a made for TV spectacle. In a one member, one vote era, the media still need something to cover, and the party still needs something to generate (and somewhere to focus) media interest. There are lessons positive and negative the Liberals can take ahead of our own leadership race next year; I'll save that for another post.

One has to wonder if the result could have been different had this been a delegated convention. After candidates got each ballot's results and were either automatically dropped or dropped by choice, we all watched closely to see where the candidates would go (most stayed neutral) and where their supporters would end up. But with the vast majority of votes having been cast in advance, the ability of a dropped candidate to be influential by walking over to a particular candidate was minimal: the preferential ballot decisions were already set in stone.

I tweeted after the first ballot that a similar scenario could be developing to the Liberal 2006 race, with Mulcair as the Michael Ignatieff that didn't mean first ballot expectations, Brian Topp as Bob Rae the second favourite going in but without a firm grip on second, and Nathan Cullen as Stephane Dion, the potential consensus candidate in third in need of a Gerard Kennedy to vault him into the mix. In the end, though, even if Paul Dewar or Peggy Nash wanted to play kingmaker to upset a Topp/Mulcair showdown they couldn't on the day of; the die was already cast with those pre-picked preferential ballots. They'd have had to made any deal, and encouraged their supporters to rank their ballots accordingly, weeks ago.

For me, the second ballot results made the final outcome inevitable. After the first ballot, I felt only Mulcair or Cullen could win. My prediction was that if Cullen could leapfrog Topp for second, he would draw enough support from Topp and Peggy Nash's supporters to potentially win a squeaker in the end against Mulcair. But if Topp remained solidly in second, when Cullen dropped off most of his support would go to Mulcair, making his victory inevitable. When Cullen failed to pass or even gain much ground on Topp on the second ballot, meaning Topp could still see a theoretical path to victory, even though it really wasn't there for him, it was really already over. The only thing that could have changed the outcome would have been for Topp to fall on his sword, but that would be a difficult thing to do. He convinced himself maybe, just maybe, they could pull enough Nash and Cullen votes. But it wasn't going to happen.

What could have made things different, and more like a delegated convention in the sense of people reacting ballot by ballot and shifting votes, would have been higher online turnout. Less than 10,000 people voted online the day of the vote, compared to 50,000 or so in advance. The potential pool of total voters was something like 150,000. At first, I was flabbergasted by the low turnout. Then, when we learned of server capacity issues preventing people from voting, I was astounded at how poor the NDP's IT planning was when even such low turnout was crashing their servers. Then, when the NDP claimed it was a Directed Denial of Service attack crashing the servers, it made slightly more sense, and put into stark relief the risks associated with online voting. I heard at one point tens of thousands had been unable to vote, which makes one wonder how the result could have changed if they'd been able to. We'll never know.

So after two more ballots, hours of delays and dinner with several Liberal bloggers (and one NDP blogging friend), it was back to the hall late Saturday night (I think the hockey game was even over by this point) for the inevitable result and a surprisingly lacklustre victory speech by Mulcair. Which, at the end of the day, won't matter a bit -- as long as he doesn't keep giving lacklustre speeches, of course. All the technical difficulties and delays will be forgotten too. For all the talk of any anybody but movement, and potential for holding "what if" grudges over suppressed votes, I don't think a divided party much of a risk. Not based on the mood in the hall, anyway. I think the members will get behind Mulcair because he brings them closer to power, and they'll be a moderating influence on him as well, ensuring he doesn't stray too far from the party's ideals.

Don't expect Topp to hold to his promise to seek a seat in the House, win or lose. Certainly no NDP incumbent is going to step aside for him. He ran a disappointing campaign that signalled he's a better fit for the backroom, and Mulcair would be wise to make use of his talents there. If one can win without finishing first Cullen did; his positive ideas-based campaign gained him friends and respect. The loser has to be Dewar, who was touted as a potential contender but ran a disappointing race that ended with a disappointing result. Nikki Ashton was running for experience and accomplished her minimal goals, while Martin Singh proved a compelling candidate that Mulcair would be wise to recruit to run for a Maritime seat in 2015. His business perspective would be an asset to the NDP caucus.

And so the NDPers fled from the convention centre for either their beds or the "unity" party where, I'm told, even the $10 cover and exorbitant cash bar didn't stop them from dancing into the wee hours. In the next post I'll look more into the future with a Mulcair-led NDP, and my thoughts on what the Liberals need to do, but first here's a video of the final ballot announcement and some pictures from throughout the event.

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