How do you choose from among your friends?
It’s the most painful part of a leadership contest in a political party, an organization that depends on volunteers for so much of its basic governance and organizing work. The friendships and personal loyalties forged through shared ideals and endeavours, wins, and as often painful losses, are the foundation of these building blocks of modern liberal democracies. But at party leadership time, only one of your friends can win (or two, if you’re in Quebec Solidaire).
Having some objective criteria, like an idealized job posting for a federal party leader, could help with that decision, so I tried to put one together. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to rate the four NDP leadership contestants on all those dimensions, but at the end of the day some criteria will still be more important than others.
The main challenge for the NDP, at this crossroads, is that a working majority of Canadians support broadly social democratic-style policies, but they haven’t been convinced to vote for the social democratic party in sufficient numbers to grant the NDP a term as federal government.
By 2011, Jack Layton aimed for an electoral coalition that assembled the traditional support base of the NDP, together with Quebeckers, aboriginal people, and so-called Layton Liberals. Ahead of 2015, party advertising identified slightly higher-income middle class professionals and environmentalist as tranches of voters Tom Mulcair could appeal to.
But the party has had one longstanding problem: it is too white.
In spite of an admirable record on civil rights, and some notable exceptions, most of its elected members have been white.
In spite of investing nearly 30 years in a party programme of gender parity that has produced consistently the highest or second-highest proportion of women on the ballot, it has historically not found the formula to redress the clear imbalance in electing candidates of colour, especially at the federal level.
The pipeline of volunteers, activists, and party staffers is slowly becoming less white. Provincially in British Columbia, the NDP has elected a record number of visible minority and aboriginal candidates. But the pace has moved too slowly across the country.
Something dramatic needs to change.
Something dramatic is about to.
The election of Jagmeet Singh as Federal Leader is going to shake up the NDP, its electoral coalition of voters, its ranks of activists, candidates, and membership.
Far from engineering a takeover, he’s run a campaign directed to both existing and new members, allowing the party to expand its circle of friends, and increase the audience for social democratic policies.
The face of Canada is changing. The NDP must change with it, preferably from the vanguard.
The party needs a leader for the next 10 years, someone who has shown the energy and capacity to grow the party while re-energizing its roots.
Electing Jagmeet Singh will give the party a much-needed jolt of energy. He has demonstrated the capacity for personal growth and increasing gravitas over the course of the leadership campaign, most recently for the dignified and principled way he has handled the many challenges put in his way.
He has won the overall campaign, even as Guy Caron has won the policy debate, and Charlie Angus has told the most compelling stories. Niki Ashton has so matter-of-factly modelled for young women that a pregnancy need not halt their dreams, it has not even been an issue in the leadership race.
But it’s time for the NDP to take a bold leap into the future. It’s time for the NDP to elect Jagmeet Singh.