Cheol Joon Baek
New Democrats elected Thomas Mulcair so he could perform exactly like he did Monday afternoon, March 26, in Ottawa, less than 48 hours after taking the reins of Canada's official Opposition in Toronto last weekend.
Head-to-head, Mulcair bested interim Liberal leader Bob Rae in a Parliament Hill hallway dust-up that left the so-called wily Liberal veteran looking humiliated. Mulcair 1 - Rae 0 after one period (day) of play. Not a bad start in any game.
After Rae unleashed a particularly spittle-flecked diatribe at the Tories in the House, he strutted toward a press scrum and took the mic meant for the leader of the Opposition's sound bites.
When Mulcair emerged to see his spotlight hijacked, he didn't timidly fall in behind Rae and his appropriated audience, waiting his turn to speak. He strode confidently to the side while the press corps hurried to reassemble around the real leader of the Opposition. Rae was left speaking to a disappearing crowd, reporters, cameras and microphones falling away like a rapidly receding tide.
NDPers voted for Mulcair because they think he can win not just hallway fights but the national government. You could see it throughout the two-day convention in Toronto's tomb-like Convention Centre, as supporters of other candidates eventually, sometimes reluctantly, fell in with the candidate they believe can take it all - a revolutionary thought in a party trying to tone down the revolution.
Mulcair's growing momentum itself sent the message that "this guy knows how to win," and for some it was the promise of possible power that cinched the deal. Read an assessment of the NDP Convention here.
While Brian Topp, who speaks great French and has impressive credentials, got many of the right endorsements, it was easier to imagine Mulcair as PM than to see Topp triumphing in any election at all. Viewing Topp as an electable politician required a leap of faith; Mulcair is already almost two decades into that career.
As Mulcair campaign co-chair Lorne Nystrom shouted at me over the roar at his candidate's party suite Friday night, "Maybe Brian Topp can win elections. Who knows? But it's pretty tough starting at the top. Maybe the guy can catch fish, but how do we know until we see him fish?"
The endorsement of the party's old guard was no gold ticket for Topp, and former leader Ed Broadbent's 11th-hour attack on the eventual winner did little but tarnish his own legacy. Still, Mulcair wisely brought Broadbent up onstage as he accepted his victory. And the decision by most losing candidates not to direct their supporters to other candidates as they fell off the ballot robbed the media of sound bites but helped the NDP come out of its convention strong and unfractured.
As one Quebec-based Topp supporter said at the post-convention "unity" party Saturday night, "You work with all your heart and soul for the candidate you believe in, and when he loses, it stings.
"But," he went on, "this doesn't feel so bad. I can get behind this guy. I think he can win."
No doubt the thought of becoming the government has soothed many NDPers who saw their candidate go down. The computer problems that painfully stretched out the voting process on Saturday also gave members plenty of time to talk through their choices and convince themselves or be convinced to climb on the Mulcair bandwagon.
His relatively soft numbers on the first ballot led some to believe an anyone-but-Mulcair move might have legs, but as his vote grew with each subsequent tally, people came to grips with the idea of an NDP with the Quebec-based MP in charge.
The surprising success of Nathan Cullen was further proof that NDPers have an appetite for change; his ideas tugged at the party's very roots.
Prime time is now, and with today's (Thursday, March 29) federal budget certain to be slash-and-burn, Mulcair has a perfect opportunity to further distance himself from Rae's grandstanding by giving voice to the millions of Canadians opposing Tory austerity.
He'll do it by going toe-to-toe with Stephen Harper, something thousands of NDPers are counting on his being very good at it.