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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Karl Bélanger, national director of the party, walk to the Progress Summit in Ottawa on Friday.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The head of Canada's largest private-sector union has come out in tentative support of Tom Mulcair as the NDP Leader faces his first leadership vote since the party fell to third place in last fall's federal election.

But Unifor president Jerry Dias's endorsement before next weekend's NDP convention in Edmonton comes with one important caveat: The real test is yet to come.

"If, in fact, we're going to need a change of leadership, I would suggest to you that discussion and decision will be made two years from now," Mr. Dias told The Globe and Mail on Friday at the left-leaning Broadbent Institute's annual Progress Summit in Ottawa.

"For people to make a decision today based on this incredible, stunning defeat – it doesn't make sense, in my opinion, for everybody to react and overreact."

The next such leadership vote at an NDP convention will take place in 2018 – one year before the next federal election.

Mr. Dias, who expects his union will bring 30 to 40 delegates to Edmonton, suggests that scenario would allow plenty of time for a new leader to get settled – if that ends up being the case.

"History shows us that other parties have changed their leaders a year before and have felt electoral success," he said.

A new Ekos poll shows the party's support slumping at 11.7 per cent, down eight points since the October election, when the NDP lost more than half its seats and Official Opposition status.

About 1,500 delegates – including current and former MPs, union members and grassroots organizers – will vote on the Sunday of next week's convention on whether to kick off a leadership race or keep Mr. Mulcair.

Former Toronto MPs Craig Scott and Andrew Cash, who lost their seats in the 2015 election, declined to say how they will vote on the leadership question next week.

"It's going to be a bit of a reset," Mr. Cash said. "There's no doubt in my mind that this party is going to survive the results of the 2015 election."

If the party faithful decides to launch a leadership race this year, Mr. Mulcair could enter it. But the outcome of a leadership election could dramatically alter the dynamic of the party throughout the Trudeau government's first term, potentially giving a younger and more left-leaning leader the chance to reshape the NDP while sacrificing the stability – but possible political baggage – of Mr. Mulcair's widely praised performance as a parliamentarian.

It is unclear what kind of support Mr. Mulcair needs from party members to stay on – with 50 per cent plus one the only marker written in stone.

Outgoing NDP president Rebecca Blaikie has put the number at 70 per cent, although she has since said Mr. Mulcair can receive less and stay. Others in the party see 75 per cent or even 85 per cent as the minimum level of support.

Ms. Blaikie and a team also prepared a review of the federal campaign, released this week, which concluded that the party's poor performance was a result of multiple failures, including a lack of a strong and simple narrative and the fact that it was ill-prepared for the debate about whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.

Mr. Mulcair on Friday said he welcomes all of the report's recommendations, including more direct engagement with the grassroots. He said he has also heard the 70-per-cent support figure, but declined to state a number for himself.

"I don't take anything for granted," Mr. Mulcair told reporters. "I've worked tirelessly since the election to listen to our members across the country and apply the lessons going forward. That's all I can do."

Mr. Dias now adds a powerful sixth voice to five unions who have already come out in support of Mr. Mulcair.

Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers, which is among them, told The Globe it would be "wrong-headed" to change leadership now. He believes Mr. Mulcair will survive next week's test.

"He, no doubt, to me, is going to hold the new government to accountability for the commitments they've made to the Canadian public to get elected. To me, that's what's very important," he said.

Mr. Neumann, like many in the NDP, says he is pleased with progressive measures in the Liberals' first budget. But he says he does not trust the government to keep all its promises.

"The Liberals have a good, long history of running on the left and governing on the right. And to me, the honeymoon period is going to come to an end at some point," he said.

But he agrees with Mr. Dias that a reassessment would be needed in 2018.

"In two years from now, if we're still down 11.5 per cent in the polls, I think people are effective and astute enough to look at the big picture and make the determination," Mr. Neumann said.

Not everyone is willing to wait.

Alain Charbonneau, president of the LaSalle-Émard-Verdun NDP riding association in Montreal, says there should "definitely" be a leadership vote.

"[Mr. Mulcair] failed terribly. It was a devastating loss," said Mr. Charbonneau, who will attend the convention. "He should be gone right now. We shouldn't even be going through this. We should be at the next step."