An orange shock wave rolled over the Canadian political landscape yesterday. In its wake Tom Mulcair’s leadership of the NDP came to a sudden, even shocking end. Some time ago I made the case for why the NDP should choose a new leader. I was surprised as anyone else, when the NDP saw things the same way.
Looking objectively at an election where the party lost the lead, half their seats, and the best chance they have ever had to form government, it is only our surprise which should surprise us. Several pundits thought Mr. Mulcair might not make the 70% threshold of support, and need to make a tough decision. Virtually no one thought support would be so low, the party would make that decision for him.
Having relieved him of his duties, people should work to relieve Mr. Mulcair of the idea of staying on until a new leader is chosen. The NDP need an interim leader as soon as possible if they want to ensure the next election goes better than the last. Even on an interim basis a new leader presents advantages staying with Mr. Mulcair does not.
They NDP may be poised to take some of their messaging back towards the left. Hearing that shift from the most centrist leader they have ever had will sound empty at best, and hypocritical at worst. Mr. Mulcair, fairly or not, has been labeled an opportunist in the past. To hear him dramatically shift from the tone he carried through the election, will do nothing for that reputation or that of his party.
Even without a great shift in tone, Rona Ambrose has done an admirable job as interim leader of the Conservative Party. Whatever disagreements I have with their message, she has been consistently effective at getting it out to the public. Had Stephen Harper stayed on, the shadow of the election loss would have kept that message out of the light for some time. Trying to come back from even further behind, the NDP have no time to waste.
Some within the party may want to hesitate, not sure of who Mr. Mulcair’s successor could be. I think people who see no obvious heir apparent for the NDP, need to look a little harder myself. As the Liberals effectively proved last year, campaigns matter. Someone not seen as an obvious contender now, could definitely prove their worth in the trenches of a leadership contest.
Until Mulcair is no longer the public face of the party, speculation over the next face will be all consuming. An interim leader, allows the NDP talk about something other than who the next leader will be. Potential candidates for the permanent job can then weigh their options under much needed cover. Careful consideration will be of great service to those candidates, and to the future of the NDP.
Tom Mulcair has spent a lifetime in public service and for that he is owed the thanks of not just the NDP, but Canadians of all stripes. As with most people in public office, the needs of him and his family have no doubt been put aside countless times. All in deference to the needs of his country, and party.
Hopefully in the coming weeks, he will place the party’s needs first one final time and step down as NDP leader. He has earned a long and enjoyable retirement from his service to the public good. For the good of the NDP, he will hopefully begin that retirement as soon as possible.