The New Democratic Party’s leadership race is over. The membership have spoken and elected Thomas Mulcair as the next leader. Mulcair’s main challenge is to defeat Stephen Harper in the next election and position the NDP to form a new government. He must build on the NDP’s 2011 electoral success by holding on to Quebec and expanding support in the rest of Canada.

Mulcair brings a number of strengths to Stornaway and Parliament Hill including:

– previous cabinet experience

– former NDP House co-leader

– well-known “native son” of Quebec and fully bilingual

– excellent public speaker in both official languages

– detailed understanding of the environment file

– widespread support from the labour movement

– demonstrated ability to build a positive, ideas-based campaign team

– superior ability to think on his feet

– signalling his intent to carry on Ed Broadbent/Jack Layton’s push for proportional representation to address Canada’s “democratic deficit”

There are also a number of concerns in the progressive movement — inside and outside the NDP — about some of Mulcair’s policy positions and leadership style. Many of these criticisms were in the form of “sound-bites” which will stick unless he’s able to pro-actively address them head on and expand his base. Issues of leadership style will be quickly demonstrated by the ways in which Mulcair builds his team and communicates with the party’s rank and file. His renaming Libby Davies as NDP House Leader is a positive sign.

On policy, Mulcair can use his “honeymoon” to exchange views on these differences (or perceived differences) and to seek common ground with natural NDP allies who, as he said in his victory speech, are so important to the 2015 formula for success.

The stakes are too high to substitute sound bites and slogans for concrete analysis or a critique of Tom Mulcair. There are still many NDP members who don’t know that the NDP doesn’t have a provincial party in Quebec. There are many creative approaches that can be taken by the party and social movements which can help both get closer to their goals.

As Nathan Cullen said, we need to have a respectful, open conversation and never be afraid of ideas.

I am happy to have had the opportunity to vote for both Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen. On the final ballot, I felt that Mulcair’s strengths out-weighed those of rival Brian Topp and I gladly gave him my vote. I’m more than willing to give him a fair chance (and a needed honeymoon).

Gary Shaul

Gary Shaul is a union activist who has been involved with a number of issues including electoral reform, anti-war, international solidarity, human rights and the environment. A Toronto resident, he has...