Even political vets can't seem to nail a prediction about who's going to be leading after the first ballot at this weekend's NDP leadership convention. That's partly because of the new one-member, one-vote system and the complexities of mail-in, e-mail and real-time online balloting. The rest has to do with the impossible-to-calculate impact of the labour delegation.If Layton campaign workers read their media clippings, they would likely conclude they have it in the bag. But if there are close numbers on the first ballot, then the union bloc, which often engineered leadership outcomes in the past, suddenly becomes important again. Union delegates as a group are guaranteed a 25 per cent share of the votes. That means the impact of each union vote will vary depending on the total number cast, but it's thought each will be worth 10 or more regular votes.
It's assumed that most of the approximately 1,500 delegates who will actually attend the convention at the National Trade Centre will be union pork-choppers whose fees (and meals and hotel rooms) are picked up by their unions. Most ordinary party members will save the $400 registration fee and vote by mail or e-mail.
Out of 82,000 members, 26,377 have already mailed in their ballots and 8,406 have voted by Internet. Voters have already been asked to indicate their second choice in case the showdown moves to a another ballot. Members can also vote in real time on the Web during the convention.
"How important union delegate votes are will be known after the first ballot,' says Steelworker Peter Leibovitch, a campaign co-chair for Joe Comartin. "If there's a wide division, then it's (not relevant). If it's 500 or a thousand, all of a sudden we're going to go back to a classic convention.'
In their wisdom, party brass in Ottawa are saying they won't be releasing a breakdown of the labour vote, offering a reason common in the NDP: "We've never done it before" (though discussions were ongoing in the face of continuing media inquiries). So unions may determine the outcome without other members knowing it.
But there's another way to measure the labour vote, though its separate from the main show: the balloting for party president, the party's most senior admin position. Unlike the one-member, one-vote leadership race, the presidency will be decided by the union-heavy delegate contingent that's physically present.
A little more than a year ago the party was showing off the youngest top party official the country had ever seen, 20-something Adam Giambrone. But proof that who you know still counts for a lot in the NDP, veteran party backroom gal Elizabeth Weir, who's also the provincial NDP leader in New Brunswick, is trying to topple the youngster from his position.
The two campaigns for the presidential post are striking examples of the old and the new. Giambrone had a campaign team assembled and was criss-crossing the country as soon as he got wind that Weir was taking him on. From the New Brunswicker, however, there was no sign of a campaign at all. Instead, she dialled "key people" like columnist Michelle Landsberg, CUPE national chief Judy Darcy and OFL prez Wayne Samuelson, whose names appear on her supporters list on her just-launched Web site.
Just as she's campaigned on the phone, so she'd carry out her presidential duties, Weir says, especially because the party is moving into election mode. "I'm concerned that we don't go back to the days when there was no place for the Atlantic at the table,' she tells NOW.
Those who support her -- among them Layton co-chair and MPP Marilyn Churley -- cite the fact that she's a woman and all the top officers are men. But the conspiratorially minded smell a rat. "I think a bunch of people aren't sure what they got with Jack and want to make sure they get the presidency,' says one prominent NDPer.
Officially, the Layton campaign claims to have no interest in the outcome of the presidential contest. However, if Weir and Layton both win, the new federal leader might come to understand the ordeal Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton went through -- constant second-guessing by the forces at party provincial headquarters that forced him to go on the warpath and remind them who was leader.
It's especially unfortunate that Weir is a provincial NDP leader, because sorting out the party's tangled relationship with its provincial sections -- which hold the purse strings and membership lists, leaving the federal party an anemic beast -- will be a priority for the new leader taking over in Ottawa. Not only is Weir an apparatchik with better connections than the councillor for Toronto-Danforth, but she's a provincial leader in a conflict of interest. Good luck, Jack.