Saturday, September 17, 2011

Game On

So we have a race; sort of. Two, count em, two candidates for the leadership of the New Democratic Party have officially thrown their ushankas into the ring. The two candidates are NDP President Brian Topp and NDP MP for the Quebec riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, Romeo Saganash. Of course, neither announced candidate are officially candidates yet. Both must collect the required number of signatures and...Zzzzz. Sorry, I dozed off. If you're interested in the boring technical details of the leadership race, knock yourself out.

Now this early in the race there isn't much to say other than this early in the race there isn't much to say. If you compare the race to a 100 metre dash, all that's taken place so far is two runners have taken to the field and are just beginning to limber up. Of course this hasn't stopped the liberal and conservative media from attempting to craft all sorts of narratives dreamed up by partisan pundits on twitter; none of whom, by the way, are actually dippers.

One of the few things we can do this early in the race is to look at some of the candidate's strengths, weaknesses and questions about them that need to be answered. More will be added as we get to know these two candidates and any others who enter the race.

Romeo Saganash
Strengths: --He's a Cree Indian. Saganash could capitalize on his ancestry in much the same way Obama did.

Weaknesses: --He's a Cree Indian. Unfortunately racism still lingers in Canada. While the overt racists wouldn't likely vote NDP, a campaign of vilification against aboriginals could dissuade some fence sitters.
--He's extremely unknown. Voters outside of Quebec have most likely never even heard his name mentioned. Even those who know of him--like me for instance--probably know very little about him.

Questions: --How strong is his English? If his grasp of the English language is no better than Stephane Dion's is Romeo doesn't have a shot. Fortunately for Saganash, this is one question he can easily clear up. See update below.

Brian Topp
Strengths: --He's well positioned to capitalize on Jack Layton's legacy.
--He knows the organization he helped build. This would give him a big advantage in maintaining party unity.
--Brian is not afraid to tackle the controversial issues head on. We've already seen this in the early days as he's taken a clear stance on the Clarity Act and the addition of more seats in the House of Commons.

Weaknesses: --He's never run for public office.
--By all accounts, Topp appears to be a cold fish. While this hasn't held Harper back, the contrast between the affable Layton and cool Topp will stand out like a sore thumb.

Questions: --Can he win in an election? Brian will have to demonstrate before the leadership convention in March that he can actually get elected by winning the Toronto-Danforth by-election or another seat vacated by an NDP MP. If he's not an MP by then it will hurt his chances.

For more on the NDP leadership race follow: Accidental Deliberations and Buckdog.

Update: Via Greg in the comments is footage of Saganash giving a speech in English (at about the 8 minute mark) at the NDP convention a couple months ago. His English is more than acceptable.


  1. Re: Saganash's English, see his convention speech here at about 8 minutes in.

    As for your question on Topp, even assuming Harper calls the by-elections anytime soon (which I doubt), I'd be shocked if Topp ran in them. The two types of campaign involve different forms of organization and conflicting time commitments, and taking his focus off the leadership race would seem to me to do far more harm than good to Topp's chances even if he could add an electoral win to his resume.

  2. The Toronto-Danforth seat is pretty safe though. So it would take minimal effort to win it and would take eliminate that question about him.

    My biggest concern though, is if Topp were to win the NDP would have a party leader not in the HOC. Any seat he ran for after could be a nasty fight. The Libs and Cons--who could possibly even work together by one of them not running a candidate--would love nothing better than to see the new NDP leader fail. That would be a big gamble for the NDP.