New Democrats are no different than members of political parties anywhere: they want to win elections, and they want to elect the best leader possible.
To win the most seats in the next election, NDP members need to vote for the leader who can best speak to the Canadian people: explain where the country has gone wrong under the Harper Conservatives; and set out a new direction for Canada, under a new government.
There is no harder task for an NDP political figure than to speak to the Canadian people using the mainstream media. Generally hostile to the NDP, and always quick to criticize and dismiss the party, the mainstream media remain the main vehicle NDP leaders have for addressing the public. Since there is no other way to win democratic elections other than to appeal to the public (if you rule out cheating), media skills are of paramount importance for the next leader.
Whether it be in an interview given to the CBC’s The Current, Sun News, Post News columnist Barbara Yaffe, Toronto Star feature writer Linda Diebel, or her neighbourhood paper, Peggy Nash gets consistently positive media coverage, not a thing the other candidates have be able to do as well. As the estimable critic John Doyle noted in his Globe column: “There’s the air of a woman who has seen and heard plenty of male bluster but knows that bluster doesn’t get the job done.”
The NDP cannot expect to win a general election without securing a high percentage of support from women voters. The next party leader needs a high gender intelligence quotient: be able to understand and respect issues raised by women, and address the injustices handed out to women.
Electing a women leader is nothing new for the NDP. Electing a third woman as the federal leader, at time when the party is in its strongest position in its history, would send a strong message to those concerned with advancing substantive equality for Canadians that the party puts its beliefs on equality into practice, and will deliver on substantive equality issues for Canadians.
Many members want the party to pick an especially aggressive candidate, one well suited to take on Stephen Harper in the House of Commons. Satisfying as this may seem to NDP members justifiably appalled at where Conservatives are taking Canada, Canadians are not particularly interested in watching two political figures yell at each other in the House of Commons. Those observing closely will know that Harper and his government routinely refuse to engage with the opposition during question period, except to repeat “the NDP do not understand,” and point the figure at previous Liberal governments.
Elections are won, and leaders made, outside the House of Commons, through direct contact with people — retail politics — and indirect contact through the media. In both cases, the objective is to make connections, impact public opinion and mobilize citizens to vote, the way Jack Layton’s NDP did in Quebec in the last election.
Peggy Nash is a francophile, someone who loves to speak French and is prepared to fight to see the language flourish all over Quebec, especially in Montréal, and wants Francophone communities (and French language immersion programs) to be secure across Canada.
The NDP will be well served by a leader who comes to Quebec to enlarge the dialogue with progressives from the women’s movement, the labour movement, environmental and peace activists, and the student movement, which is fully engaged in a magnificent battle with the provincial Charest Liberals over the business takeover of universities.
The PQ and the Bloc would rather re-fight the sovereignty wars, and attack right-wing Conservative policies, than have to confront a positive, upbeat NDP party leader.
Peggy Nash has progressive credentials that are impeccable, and it was progressives, former Bloc Québecois voters, who largely elected the 58 new NDP members last May 2.
The brand new NDP Quebec voters will be watching closely how well the party is doing in Ontario, and in B.C. Like NDP voters elsewhere, Quebec progressives want to see the Harper government replaced. The 58 Quebec NDP members means the party starts with a real advantage over the Liberals and Conservatives in the next election. Peggy Nash works well with others, and will get the best from her talented caucus members.
The Jack Layton legacy to Canadians included a desire to see parliament work, and to improve decorum in the House of Commons. Most importantly for the NDP, it was the willingness to work with the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives, and then form a coalition government, that defined the Layton approach.
Peggy Nash wants to bring the party together after a divisive leadership campaign, and she wants to build on the legacy of Jack Layton. Winning the next election is the goal. Unlike her main adversary, Thomas Mulcair, she has not ruled out co-operating with the Liberals to form a government, if it is the way to turn the Conservatives out of office.
Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.