Cheol Joon Baek
Party members demanded leader hopefuls articulate core values.
In the middle of the sound and fury on Saturday, as placard-waving delegates were cheering up a frenzy in the airless convention hall, I learned that Alice Heap had died.
It truly stopped me in my tracks. NDPers like Alice and husband Dan Heap, long-time worker-priest, former T.O. alderman and later Spadina MP, kept conscience alive in New Democratic culture for many years. It was from them and their parish politics centred around their home at 29 Wales, that I first gleaned that grassroots action could go electoral. Jack Layton himself built his base on the Heaps' old Ward 6 network.
I was thinking of all this, plus Alice's lasagnas and organizing brilliance, as power surged toward Thomas Mulcair on Saturday.
You could say it was a long way from the Heaps' comfy old living room to this crazy convention with its talk of winning government. But in some respects it wasn't.
Sure enough, the Mulcair choice was purely pragmatic; NDPers carefully considered the options on that last exhausting ballot. They settled on a Quebec contender with parliamentary smarts, a magnetic personality, lots of rough edges and a truckload of media appeal. Pretty good, actually.
But if the pick wasn't a vision thing, neither did it signal a willingness to junk core values. You could tell that by the way leader contenders in the six-month race felt compelled to stick to sacred precepts, Mulcair included. Not surprisingly, most were eloquent on sharing the wealth, the green economy and an anti-militarist foreign policy and paid due respect to the Caterpillar workers and foes of the Enbridge pipeline. Obviously, they considered these the necessities of victory.
On the weekend, the 4,000 or so delegates arrived with cause Ts and buttons and donned pieces of red cloth in solidarity with Quebec student strikers. The effervescent Olivia Chow told the hall that "the message of Jack is to look for the essential goodness in each of us," a nice whiff of old-time CCF social gospelism.
Yes, Mulcair stumbles over the "brothers and sisters" tradition and wants to remove "democratic socialism" from the NDP preamble - an attempt already made by Layton and likely to face the same rebellion.
"We have to refresh our discourse, modernize our approach and use a language that pleases our supporters but also attracts people," he told his first presser, a relaxed affair that showcased his comfort under scrutiny.
No one in the party will get exactly what they want with the new chief, and let's be honest - they didn't under Jack either. Just as they didn't under David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, etc - or NDP premier Bob Rae, perish the thought. Wayne Roberts even called his Rae book Giving Away A Miracle.
For starters, the new leader will have to get used to the hissing from Palestine human rights activists. Despite the fact that Mulcair says he respects international law and UN resolutions and adheres to the party's two-state solution, his signals have been frightening on the file: strange mutterings equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and the fact that Shimon Fogel, president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, describes him as "courageous" for his stance.
But it has to be said, the party has been less than stellar on this issue in general, right back to Alexa McDonough, who revoked Svend Robinson's portfolio. Layton was edgy about the combustible item and tried to balance internal tensions. And though the Canadian Arab Federation backed Brian Topp, he, too, opposed boycotts and sanctions.
On the weekend, a player in the Nova Scotia NDP premier's office described for me how bullet-dodging works at the power centre. Elected reps get cross-pressured out of their wits and learn quickly how to barter.
Knowing this, our job - and it's no more or less true under Mulcair than under anyone else - is to ease their way by kicking up dust at the grassroots and trying to reshape public opinion. That's a little something I picked up at the Heaps' place.