NDP youth divided over Tom Mulcair’s future

Initial reaction among party's youth wing to leadership question suggests federal NDP leader has his work cut out for him at Edmonton convention



Edmonton – With the New Democratic Party leader’s political future hanging in the balance, the NDP’s youth wing is split on whether to back Thomas Mulcair at this weekend’s crucial convention.

The party gathering is the first major meeting for New Democrats from across the country since their disappointing third-place finish in last fall’s federal election. On Sunday, about 1,500 delegates will vote on whether they have confidence in Mulcair to continue as leader.

Most political observers have suggested that Mulcair needs at least 70 per cent support to stay on. Some, like former NDP MP and finance critic Peggy Nash, have blamed him for the party’s “spectacular failure” at the polls, going from 103 seats in 2011 to 44 seats in 2015. 

The initial reaction of NDP youth arriving at this weekend gathering would suggest Mulcair has his work cut out for him.

Sean Illman-White, a New Democrat from Ottawa, says the party needs a leader that can sell the NDP and inspire the country.

“We talk about not leaving anyone behind, about building the Canada of our dreams, but we don’t tell that story,” Illman-White says at an NDP youth wing event on Thursday evening at a local Edmonton pub. “Mulcair hasn’t been a good storyteller.”

The youth wing held its own vote on Thursday. Forty-eight endorsed Mulcair’s leadership and 48 voted against. Ten abstained from voting.

Mulcair’s NDP started the marathon 2015 election campaign last August with many polls showing the party could win. But instead, the federal Liberals overtook them, losing prominent MPs Paul Dewar, Megan Leslie, and Pat Martin, among others.

Isaiah Bemrose-Fetter, a New Democrat from Vancouver, says he is continuing to support Mulcair’s leadership because he believes that NDP higher ups should share the blame for the disastrous campaign.

“We restricted angry Tom and turned him into creepy Tom,” says Bemrose-Fetter, about the campaign’s effort to soften the leader’s image.

With his sharp, adversarial style, Mulcair is a good fit with the party’s leadership, according to Bemrose-Fetter.

“The NDP is bombastic,” said Bemrose-Fetter. “It is about fighting for the rights of the people.”

Kiana Saint-Macary, a delegate from Montreal, says Mulcair just hasn’t been able to sell socialist policies to the mainstream public like Senator Bernie Sanders has been able to do in the U.S. Democratic party primaries Stateside. 

“I wish I felt everyone (in the NDP) was rallying behind someone,” she says.

Many of the young delegates interviewed say they want the party to uphold its values at all costs.

“I’m happy to lose elections — as long as we defend the rights of people,” said Bemrose-Fetter.

The youth supported a motion on Thursday for the NDP to adopt the Leap Manifesto in its original form. This manifesto, introduced in the middle of the election campaign, calls for major new initiatives to reconcile its relationship with Indigenous peoples and to make a significant economic transformation to tackle the threat posed by climate change. 

Avi Lewis, a co-author of the document along with activist author and partner Naomi Klein, says the youth wing’s support for the Leap shows that they want the NDP to move further to the left. A motion for NDP riding associations to study the document over the next two years for final adoption at the party’s 2018 convention will be debated this weekend.

“Youth feel to the marrow of their bones the issue of climate change and inequality,” Lewis say.

Those in their 20s and 30s will be the first generation that will have a lower quality of life than the previous one, he says. 

“Let’s not candy-coat it. The Leap Manifesto is a real left-wing document,” Lewis says.

NDP youth also endorsed a proposal that requests an amendment to the party constitution to make it more accommodating to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people or to anyone questioning their sexual orientation. They also approved a motion requesting Mulcair and the party leadership apologize for their treatment of pro-Palestinian candidates during the election.

Daniel Rodriguez is a Venezuelan-Canadian journalist who covers the business, politics, and energy beats. A slightly different version of this story appears at nationalobserver.com. 

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