And so the Jack Layton honeymoon begins. Even the National Post has run a couple of fawning stories about the bicycle-riding new leader of the federal NDP.But as Tory leader Joe Clark warned the new chief on Monday, "Jack Layton's easiest days as leader of his party are behind him."
It's not the bloody-minded opposition or gotcha press gallery, however, that Layton has to worry about. The backstabbers may come from within.
Winning that first ballot was a breeze compared to transforming the federal NDP from a dysfunctional outfit of fiefdoms into a politically coherent, vote-getting electoral machine.
Layton's most valuable allies will be the people who made him leader. The political outsider's dramatic victory is a testament to the effectiveness of the new one-member, one-vote system. It does have its problems, notably the 25 per cent carve-out for labour and a mathematical complexity that only rocket scientists could completely understand.
But OMOV has sidelined the wheeling-and-dealing hacks who have determined leadership contests in the past. They've made some strange decisions over the years while locked up in rooms for a couple of days, such as choosing a rookie MP from the Yukon instead of a former premier for leader. Disaster followed.
At the National Trade Centre last weekend some delegates were pining for the good old days when they were the target of all manner of entreaties from opposing camps vying to put together a couple of thousand votes to ensure victory. "That was exciting," one sighed wistfully. "Now we don't matter."
Precisely. In fact, what happened at the convention was irrelevant to the eventual outcome. The result was sitting in a warehouse in Mississauga a week before it began. Those mail-in ballots -- plus a few thousand received via the Net -- told the whole story. Members wanted something different, and they spoke loud and clear in the first-ballot triumph of a candidate running against five opponents. Tommy Douglas himself was the only other leader to pull off that feat, but he ran against only one other hopeful.
In an old-style convention it would have been virtually impossible for an outsider like Layton to win on a first ballot -- or at all, most likely, because old-time MPs like Blaikie would've had much better access to the deal-addicted insiders who attend these circuses.
But the ordinary members were the ones who spoke here, not the functionaries, and Layton will need the legitimacy of their landslide support. That's obvious from the resentment still evident on Sunday morning, when some of the MPs pulled deeks worthy of the mighty Gretzky as they avoided Layton's outstretched arms and took their place onstage.
This week, Layton is going through the sensitive process of deciding who will be the party's critics in the house. Will Svend Robinson (one of only two MPs to back Layton) get back responsibility for Mideast affairs or will that stay with Alexa McDonough? Will Peter Stoffer remain defence critic even though he supports more military spending?
Since the NDP runs a unionized operation, wholesale staffing changes will be tough, so he'll be getting Alexa McDonough's hand-me-downs. Layton has made three new hires -- all people who worked on his campaign, including chief of staff Rick Smith, formerly national director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
While he has to manage the resentment and divided loyalties in Ottawa, Layton will also have to keep an eye cocked westward to NDP-run Manitoba and Saskatchewan, both expected to go the polls this year. He won't want any creative musing coming out of Ottawa that might cause political dust storms on the Prairies. At the first sign of controversy, you can bet law-and-order Manitoba premier Gary Doer will be on the phone to Layton.
So the former T.O. councillor who's promised some fresh thinking in Ottawa will first have to run his ideas through a political sieve -- the caucus, the NDP premiers, the party's federal executive and council. That will take some new energy, all right.
For the moment, Layton has been busy on the anti-warpath, making frequent mentions of the next big antiwar demos on February 15. It's a fortuitous moment to be taking the helm, just when the country needs a voice for peace, I observed to a Layton adviser on Sunday morning. But he wasn't so sure. It's good for mobilizing the base, he said, but will it make anyone switch to the NDP? Not when the Libs have their fingers in the wind, carefully monitoring public opinion.
Thankfully for Layton, there's one headache he won't have to deal with. Her name is Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the New Brunswick NDP who wanted to take on a part-time job as president of the federal party. She hoped to be a rural check to the city slickers from T.O. who are in control of the top spots, one of whom is Adam Giambrone, the 20-something incumbent party president.
But the youngster turned out to be a more formidable opponent than she'd anticipated, and her backers concocted a plan for "co-presidents." As we watched Quebec leadership candidate Pierre Ducasse prepare for his masterful speech on Saturday morning, I asked Weir if she thought that, instead of picking one leader, the party should make all six co-leaders. "You're being cynical," she said.
Giambrone was prepared to go along with the deal hatched by well-known political fixer Andre Foucault, secretary treasurer of the Canadian Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP). Foucault circulated among the delegates, warning them against sending a weakened Weir into an election in New Brunswick after rejecting her for a post in her own party. "It would have got the issue off the table," he explained to me later.
But the delegates didn't go for it. "If Elizabeth Weir didn't want to get her ass kicked, she shouldn't have run," one woman said in disgust before the vote in which the NB leader was soundly defeated.
"The members want transparency, and this seemed like a backroom deal," Giambrone told me.
Layton would do well to keep the Weir saga in mind. Rather than resorting to secret pacts with the various factions in Ottawa, he'd better remember the people who elected him. They don't want the tasteless stew of political compromise they've been fed for so many years. They think he can do better. Now he has to deliver.