There are piles of buttons with Tom Mulcair's name on them at the desks where NDP delegates register for the party's convention. Few delegates are wearing them.
That's odd, as political conventions go. Usually, there are signs or banners for the leader – or even against, when their leadership is contested. There are supporters clustering in the halls. But in Edmonton, there's an eerie lack of that. No one is chanting Mr. Mulcair's name.
Then Alberta Premier Rachel Notley showed up on Saturday, told an NDP convention that they have to support an oil pipeline, and slapped down the leftist, anti-pipeline Leap Manifesto that has caught the fancy of many New Democrats.
She walked out to a standing ovation.
It was easy to see who was the most popular leader in the room.
Of course, Ms. Notley is an NDP hero, the woman who turned Alberta orange, once an impossible dream. The delegates were chanting "Not-ley!" before she opened her mouth. And she delivered a barn-burner, plucking NDP strings with finesse. She played on her long years in Alberta's political wilderness before triumph, ridiculed conservatives, and reminded delegates her pro-pipeline government is taking action on greenhouse gases.
But the response provided a telling contrast. Even if Mr. Mulcair wins the leadership-review vote by an acceptable margin on Sunday, it will be hard to believe he has really won over New Democrats. He certainly doesn't own the room the way Ms. Notley does.
Many of those who are for Mr. Mulcair are advocating compromise. Union leader Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, argued Mr. Mulcair should get an endorsement this week, but be left on a short leash for another review vote in 2018. Several union delegates argue the party just has too much on its plate to have a federal leadership race right now, what with a B.C. election coming next year and an Ontario election in 2018. In other words, keep Mr. Mulcair because replacing him doesn't fit the work schedule.
Among the more passionate arguments for Mr. Mulcair is that he can keep the party solid, notably in Quebec, in the next election, when the Liberals are likely to be re-elected.
But the dispassionate support suggests Mr. Mulcair might have to look over his shoulder, and worry about his leadership, even if he gets the 70-per-cent support that's widely seen as an acceptable margin. Unless he wins a resounding victory, he's likely to limp out of this convention.
And a 70-per-cent margin is a big if. Many delegates think he'll fall short of that figure.
Ms. Notley's speech amplified one of his problems. To respond to what seemed like the mood of the party, Mr. Mulcair came into this convention nodding to the supporters of the Leap Manifesto, co-authored by filmmaker Avi Lewis and his wife, author Naomi Klein. It calls for dramatic climate action, including rejecting new pipelines, and vastly expanding social spending. Mr. Mulcair told the CBC that if delegates vote to keep Alberta oil in the ground, he'd work to make that happen.
That had a lot of Alberta New Democrats hopping mad. Ms. Notley, NDP hero, came into the room and slapped down the Leap Manifesto writers as slogan writers and Toronto talkers. The subtext was that the federal party had no business coming into the Alberta NDP government's front yard and talking trash about the energy sector. They expected Mr. Mulcair to shut that talk down, not embrace it.
There are 345 Alberta NDPers of them here at this convention in Edmonton – a big reason for the numbers swelling to around 1,800 in all. A lot of them are in the mood to dump Mr. Mulcair. He moved to embrace the mood of the convention, and might have instead flown into it.
But there's an odd lack of real, visible leadership-review organization. There are small meetings, and some leaflets being circulated by those who want Mr. Mulcair replaced. Many of the youth delegates are also planning to vote against Mr. Mulcair.
On the other side, Mr. Mulcair has the support of many of the 275 union delegates. And then there's a lot of ambivalence, including those who, the day before the vote, insist they really are waiting to hear Mr. Mulcair's pre-vote speech before deciding. If he can win the vote, it still seems unlikely he'll be the NDP's hero.