Skip to main content

Andrea Horwath says she wants Tom Mulcair to stay on as NDP leader.Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is hoping to stage a political comeback at his party's convention in Edmonton – a challenge to which his Ontario counterpart can relate.

Andrea Horwath faced calls to resign after a disappointing election result in 2014, but managed to fend off critics and remain at the helm of the provincial NDP.

Mulcair is hoping to take a page from Horwath's playbook as rank-and-file party members still reeling from last year's federal election defeat gather this weekend to pass judgment on his leadership.

New Democrats will make up their own minds about who should lead the federal party, said Horwath, but she has made it clear to Mulcair she wants him to stay on.

"There's no doubt that the (federal) campaign was a disappointment for many people, me included," she said during a recent interview in Ottawa.

"It's almost like a relationship.... It's important to go through that pain and acknowledge it, to talk about it, and then to recommit to moving on and rebuilding."

Ever since last October's crushing third-place election finish, Mulcair has been travelling across the country for some "blunt and upfront conversations" with various activists and volunteers, she added.

"That work helps to then build not only an expectation but a commitment to having that broader conversation with the membership," Horwath said. "Tom's worked very, very hard ... I would be fine with, I would be happy with Tom staying on as leader."

Horwath is scheduled to address the convention Friday, the opening day of a three-day gathering that culminates Sunday with a vote on Mulcair's leadership.

Before Horwath, however, will be a speech from Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, that's sure to get the proceedings off to an awkward start.

Yussuff has made it clear he does not support Mulcair as leader, saying he has not made the case for why he should keep his job.

"I have enormous respect for (Mulcair) with regards to his performance in the House of Commons, but it didn't make much of a difference ultimately when the electorate went to vote," he said earlier this week.

"We lost more than half the caucus despite his strong performance and, by the way, this isn't about Tom. This is about the future of the party."

Mulcair is not without allies: six unions affiliated with the congress, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the United Steelworkers, have pledged their support.

Others have been more circumspect.

Former Toronto MP Peggy Nash, a leadership challenger in 2012 who went down to defeat last fall along with a score of other prominent New Democrats, put Mulcair on notice in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post.

"The leader too has to share the blame and Tom Mulcair has acknowledged this ... I will be a delegate in Edmonton next weekend," Nash wrote.

"Frankly I haven't yet decided how I'm going to vote. I want to hear what Tom Mulcair offers us at the convention. He's had six months to reflect on the events of the 2015 campaign. I hope he throws away talking points and speaks from the heart."

How much support Mulcair will need to stay on as leader remains an open question. Outgoing NDP president Rebecca Blaikie has said she believes he needs about 70 per cent of Sunday's votes.

Mulcair himself has so far refused to say what level of support he believes he needs to receive Sunday in order to remain as leader.