The federal New Democratic Party should allow enough time before its leadership convention to build up its membership and organization in Quebec. Jack Layton’s wish, expressed in his final letter, that the new leader should be chosen in January, 2012, should not be treated as infallible doctrine.
It is in the interest of Canada as a whole that the success of the NDP in Quebec – which is a federalist party, not simply a federal one – not turn out to be a flash in the pan. The Quebec NDP needs to put down some roots. Otherwise, the Bloc Québécois, or some new incarnation of it, could return to fill a vacuum.
At present, most NDP riding associations in Quebec have few members. And the party’s leadership convention rules give one vote to every party member (before labour and other “affiliated” members are added in). Without a major membership drive in Quebec, New Democrats from the province could easily come out of the convention feeling alienated and marginalized – in spite of their remarkable predominance in the caucus, with 59 out of 103 MPs.
For some time before Mr. Layton’s illness became unmistakably grave, Thomas Mulcair, the NDP MP for Outremont and a former Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec, seemed to be his most likely successor. Since Mr. Layton’s death, Brian Topp, the party president, has suddenly become a major potential candidate, and there is speculation in the past few days about Olivia Chow. Mr. Topp and Robert Chisholm, the MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, have both acknowledged their interest. There is now some doubt about the viability of a campaign by Mr. Mulcair. It would be unfortunate if there were no candidate from Quebec.
The NDP leadership race should be an open, vigorously competitive one, in which the party’s new role in Canadian politics is seriously debated.
The next federal election will not take place for another four years. The choice of the new NDP leader should not be rushed, and the campaign should reflect the new range of the party’s support across Canada.