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A different kind of NDP

Unendingly boring and endlessly fascinating. It beats me how a political convention can be both these things at once, but the NDP Leadership convention, as broadcast on CBC yesterday, managed to leave me with both these impressions.

Through it all, the mantle of leadership moved relentlessly toward Thomas Malcolm, ending in his fourth ballot victory with 57.2 per cent of the vote, against long-time party organizer Brian Topp.

Peter Mansbridge et al did their best to maintain an aura of suspense throughout the 12 hours of broadcasting. All were loathe to concede that the outcome was actually predestined, at least insofar as over 90 per cent of the votes were concerned. Those were the advance ballots cast by 55,000 members before the convention ‘s opening. It was the second choices of those who had voted for candidates who fell off the ballot or withdrew — five of the seven — that cinched the outcome.

Out of it, a different kind of NDP has emerged. Members rejected the advice of the party establishment to stick with the social democratic principles that had been bedrock in the NDP. They preferred to flirt with the ideas of relative newcomers like Mulcair and Nathan Cullen who preached, each in different ways, of the need for the NDP to broaden its appeal and opt for a more centrist vision if it hopes to turn its new-found status as Official Opposition into a launching pad for power at the next election.

Only Cullen went so far as to advocate outright cooperation in selecting joint candidates with the Liberals in ridings held by Conservatives. His surprising third place finish is a tribute both to his own effectiveness on the platform, and the willingness of many Dippers to give serious thought to finding ways of uniting the “progressive vote.”

The fact Mulcair, in his first interview as NDP leader, rejected the possibility of cooperation with the Liberals and Greens does not mean some type of alliance cannot eventually emerge.

Mulcair had to play the party unity tune, and he did so by pledging ever-lasting loyalty to core NDP principles. Instead of moving to the centre, he wants to bring the centre to the NDP. His position is categorical, he said, that there will be no merger with the Liberals. “We tried that, and they turned up their noses,” he said. Yet the pressure to win (something new in NDP circles) will become powerfully compelling as time goes on.

Bob Rae, for his part, seemed a little disappointed with Mulcair’s stance  in an interview he gave Sunday morning. Rae noted that Canada is into a four or five party system, suggesting that the making of alliances will become a necessity if the Conservatives are to be dislodged.

The TV coverage of this convention, tedious as it was, had one interesting new feature. Twitter messages crawled across the screen, spontaneous comments from people expressing their 140-character views of the world. A refreshing innovation, and another example of how social media are changing our conventional view of the world.

A closing note: The convention produced a second surprise, after Nathan Cullen’s remarkable performance: Martin Singh, the immensely personable sixth-place finisher. Asked how he felt about his quite respectable showing, he cracked,  “I didn’t die but I went to heaven.” Surely the best turn of phrase of the convention.

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