Thomas Mulcair became NDP Leader on Saturday with 57.2 per cent of the vote from its members on the fourth ballot, a respectable score compared to the results of past federal leadership races. He took a higher percentage of votes than some of Canada’s most celebrated prime ministers did in their respective bids for leadership, but a lower share than some other current and former leaders, including both Ed Broadbent and Stephen Harper.
On the face of it, the number gives little indication Mr. Mulcair is taking over a divided party. On a final ballot with only two names, Thomas Mulcair obtained a higher percentage than Stéphane Dion in 2006, Brian Mulroney in 1983, Mackenzie King in 1919, and Joe Clark in 1976, among others, even if the method of choosing the leader was different.
Jean Chrétien took less of his party’s vote, though against many more candidates on the first ballot, as did Mr. Harper when he took over the Canadian Alliance. Gilles Duceppe in 1997, Kim Campbell in 1993, John Turner in 1984, and other leaders also took less of their party’s vote than Mr. Mulcair did, though against more than one other competitor.
Against the standards of his own party, Mr. Mulcair took more of the vote on the fourth ballot against one opponent than Audrey McLaughlin did in 1989, and he outperformed Jack Layton’s 53.5 per cent score in 2003. But Mr. Layton beat five other candidates on the first ballot, a far more difficult feat. Alexa McDonough took only 32.6 per cent of the vote in 1995 before she won, thanks to the concession by Svend Robinson before the second round of voting took place.
Mr. Mulcair also scored better than Pierre Trudeau and R.B. Bennett, two men who would eventually become prime minister.
How did Thomas Mulcair manage it? He led on all four of the ballots in Saturday’s race, picking up just enough votes in each round of voting to maintain a sizeable lead over Brian Topp, who trailed in second throughout the day. After obtaining 30.3 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, Mr. Mulcair captured roughly 43 per cent of the votes of Paul Dewar, Martin Singh, and Niki Ashton, who dropped off or were forced off before the second round of voting had begun.
This pushed Mr. Mulcair up to 38.3 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Mr. Topp’s 25 per cent. But it was the former party president who took most of Peggy Nash’s votes on the third ballot, capturing about 39 per cent of them to the Quebec MP’s 33 per cent. It was not enough, however, as despite taking less of the new votes on the table Mr. Mulcair was propelled to 43.8 per cent, still more than 12 points ahead of Mr. Topp.
Thomas Mulcair then captured about 54 per cent of Nathan Cullen’s supporters on the fourth ballot to get a majority of the membership’s votes.
It was a very similar outcome to the leadership convention that chose Ed Broadbent as leader of the NDP in 1975. Mr. Broadbent had 33 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, 36 per cent on the second, 43 per cent on the third, and just under 60 per cent on the final ballot. He maintained a solid lead against Rosemary Brown throughout the voting as, from one ballot to the next, one candidate dropped off at a time.
But with 59.9 per cent of the vote in 1975, a race that, like most others held in the past, was not a one-member-one-vote election, Mr. Broadbent narrowly edged out Thomas Mulcair’s fourth ballot result. Mr. Mulcair’s result is also below that of David Lewis in 1971 (63.1 per cent) and Tommy Douglas in 1961, who took 78.5 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Mulcair had a lower winning score than former prime ministers John Diefenbaker, Louis St-Laurent, Lester B. Pearson, and Paul Martin obtained in their respective leadership races. When Stephen Harper won the Conservative Party leadership in 2004, he took 68.9 per cent of the individual votes, though a lower share of the “points” in a race where votes were proportioned evenly across all 308 ridings.
Mr. Mulcair also takes over the NDP with less support than the score obtained by his chief rival in Quebec, Daniel Paillé, who took 61.3 per cent of the vote in the Bloc Québécois’s leadership convention in December.
But capturing a high percentage of the vote in a leadership election does not guarantee success as a leader. John Bracken, George Drew, and Joe Clark (in 1998) all took a higher share of their party’s vote but never won a general election as head of their respective parties. Michel Gauthier took 67.1 per cent of the vote from his party’s elite in 1996 to take over the Bloc Québécois, but resigned a year later in the face of a caucus revolt.
Stockwell Day won 63.3 per cent of the vote in the Canadian Alliance’s 2000 leadership race before being defeated by Mr. Chrétien in the subsequent general election. Peter MacKay won 64.8 per cent of the vote in 2003 when he took over the Progressive Conservatives, only to lead them into a merger. And the 93.9 per cent that Paul Martin captured in 2003 did not reflect the divisions within the Liberal Party at the time.
Nevertheless, Thomas Mulcair takes over the leadership of the New Democrats with a solid mandate from the party’s membership. By the final ballot on Saturday, almost two-thirds of the federal caucus was standing behind him as well. But before he can look to defeating Stephen Harper in 2015, he will need to ensure the rest of the party apparatus will follow him there.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com