Leadership race leaves NDP stronger and wiser

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Harper foes, take heart. The NDP rank-and-file made good on the party's Opposition promise at last weekend's leadership convention. Both the process and the outcome have left Canada's progressive majority stronger and wiser in many obvious and also subtle ways.

The voting results are a hope elixir. How fantastically different this convention was from the surreal electoral choices we keep seeing south of the border and, sadly, in our own city. Isn't it nice to know that real democracy, in the hands of the country's biggest concentration of social equality advocates, adds up to collective brilliance? That kind of faith renewed packs the energy that might just get new people interested in voting.

So often the left has sabotaged itself. But this time the members elected the best candidate, Tom Mulcair, because he was the one with the talents and resumé needed for that job.

They resisted the temptation to stick with old platitudes despite the pleading and wheedling of party brass like Ed Broadbent, who desperately threw his love behind the seatless and charisma-challenged Brian Topp.

Instead, NDPers from the rest of Canada flung their varied fears aside to emphatically embrace their Quebec brothers and sisters. It is Quebeckers who have made their homeland the country's true centre for the culture of compassion and social cohesion. Mulcair's victory offers the hope that the rest of the country will not only maintain that critical cultural connection but also be mentored and influenced by it.

And the party's ranks stepped even further outside old left-right stories at this convention by handing Nathan Cullen an exceptional third-place finish on every ballot until the final showdown. That is another true game-changer for the party. Nobody outside the tiny Cullen starting circle would have predicted such a finish when his campaign was announced. An unknown from B.C.'s rural northlands, he had the daring to openly advocate cooperating with other parties to defeat the Conservatives in the next election. Until his campaign, many party stalwarts and pundits considered that idea grounds for ridicule, denigration and dismissal.

Cullen's incredible political presence has parted the seas on that choppy subject. Clear passage through the dangerous waters we all now find ourselves in includes new conversations and respectful and open-minded ways of having them.

Cullen's significance goes far beyond his co-operation proposal. He stated often during the campaign that he wasn't wedded to any particular plan for working with other parties. Rather, co-operation as a fresh holistic alternative to the partisanship that has turned masses of people away from political engagement of any kind is the enduring masterpiece of his campaign.

That's why his words rang with authenticity when he defined the NDP's task as meeting the clear and present danger of the Harper Conservatives with whatever it takes to defeat them. That's the spirit.

Cullen's vote-getting success, along with his courage and non-partisan demeanour, have taken the country's progressives several giant steps forward toward a new, magnetic force field of value-based politics. This will attract the new participants we need to retrieve the country's soul from the tar-sand-fuelled fossils who are currently dead set on stealing it.

These are the choices the party made last weekend. And they chose as they did for all the right reasons. It wasn't the lure of power at any cost that drove NDPers. It was the grassroots of the party weighing all their familiar and well-loved ways against the hugeness of the task at hand. In the end, they chose to answer the call of the country's socially and environmentally aware majority over comfortable party slogans. And from the sadness of Jack's untimely end, they have done a great job injecting Canadian politics with new love, hope and optimism.

This article was first published in NOW Magazine.

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