Sunday, 4 December 2011

Manitoba in the Federal NDP Leadership Race

Sometime in Feburary of next year they'll be an NDP Leadership debate held in this fine prairie city.

Image Source: Wikipedia (both logos)
It'll be lovely to see how the candidates endure their brief moments outside in the world's coldest city with more 500,000 people. It'll certainly be nice, if ever so briefly, to see Winnipeg in the national spotlight (or, at least as the background for an event in the national spotlight).

I wonder how prominently Manitoba NDP members will factor into the leadership race. Unlike the Liberals or Conservatives, provincial branches of the NDP are integrated within the Federal NDP. All one has to do to become a member of the Federal Party is to take out a membership with the provincial one.

NDP Memberships by Province: Data current as of Nov. 17, 2011 -
based on figures from
Cohen, T. "NDP membership soaring as leadership race kicks into high gear".
Vancouver Sun, Nov. 17, 2011. Data from the territories or New
Brunswick was unavailable.

Image Source: Constructed by "The Analyst" using
LibreOffice Calc.

Electoral gains in the House are dependent, to a substantial degree, on Quebec (which is why Quebec candidates like Thomas Mulcair and, to a lesser extent, Romeo Sagnash feature so prominently in the race), but winning the leadership race depends on winning current party members. There are few current party members in Quebec, a third are huddled in British Columbia, with the next greatest concentration in Ontario, while Manitoba is a distant third.

Brian Topp, the first candidate in the race, has used this fact to his advantage by getting endorsements from prominent BC NDP officials and campaigning in the Province. Former provincial BC NDP leader Carol James (whose exit from the top job was less than graceful) and Federal NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies have endorsed Topp.     

BC NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who's also in the leadership race, has stated that party establishment endorsements might not be that helpful for a party whose members are sceptical of establishments, as NDP members supposedly are. While that's probably true for the NDP in BC, where the rank and file have a strong critical and nonconformist streak, that's less true in Manitoba.

The political culture of Manitoba is remarkably conciliatory, modest in expectations*, and probably more trusting of party leaders. It's not unreasonable to expect that party leaders will have a bigger sway on members decisions in the upcoming election. Having a more unified voting bloc may increase Manitobans' sway in the upcoming leadership election, but other factors complicate the picture.

Manitoba's NDP memberships are inflated by the fact that there's many people interested in the provincial party who take out memberships yet probably don't care (or vote for a different party) at the Federal level. Federal Liberals,  Provincial New Democrats partially explain how a city which is provincially "Orangepeg" can be "Bluepeg" federally. That's the irony of having provincial branches fully integrated with the Federal party. 

In the 2009 Manitoba NDP leadership race, which was a tight contest between Greg Selinger and Steve Ashton, lots of memberships were sold. During the provincial leadership race, Manitoba NDP memberships rose from 5,000 to 11,000. Some of those memberships have lapsed, as NDP memberships in this province dipped to 10,307 before the Federal Leadership race (but rose by 207 to 10,514 memberships during this leadership race).

Graph of NDP Memberships in Each Province: Based on
same data as chart above.

Image Source: Constructed by The Analyst using
LibreOffice Calc.

How many 2009 recruits will vote in the Federal race is an open question. The best provincial NDP leadership candidate at gaining new members was Steve Ashton and, assuming that a sizable chunk of his recruits still follow his word, they'll probably go to Niki Ashton - his daughter and a candidate for Federal NDP leader. The Ashton family has a record of helping one another out electorally.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin is still an unknown. He might launch a candidacy to spearhead the merger mantra further, but his influence on rank and file members will probably wane outside of Winnipeg Centre.

Former Winnipeg North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis has hosted a gathering - which included many prominent Manitoba New Democrats - for Brian Topp. So it seems that, in addition to having the support of much of BC's New Democratic establishment, Topp has generated some (noncommittal) interest from Manitoba NDP insiders. 

Paul Dewar, another candidate, has a family connection to the Manitoba NDP. His brother, Bob Dewar, was chief of staff for former Premier Gary Doer. This may or may not translate into meaningful support for his candidacy among Manitoba New Democrats.

Martin Singh - a rather unknown businessman and pharmacist whose entered the leadership race -  attended a Manitoba Premier's dinner where he met numerous Manitoba NDP insiders. Whether that's translated into any lasting connections outside of some nice photo-ops remains to be seen.

Finally, Romeo Saganash has some interesting credentials - negotiating deals with resource companies for Cree communities and helping negotiate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People - that New Democratic aboriginal rights activists in Manitoba would be interested in. Last election, while the NDP won (largely on the back of Layton's personal popularity), a lot of social equality issues were conspicuously absent - the conditions of aboriginal communities among them. The deplorable conditions at the Attawapiskat First Nation have served to bring some of the issues into the national spotlight and there's a chance that aboriginal issues will have seeped into the national consciousness by the time of the next federal election, issues Saganash has had first hand experience with. It doesn't appear that Saganash has much of ground organization outside Quebec nor has he received much Manitoba New Democrat attention, so his chances at snagging a chunk of this province's membership seems slim.

2012 NDP Leadership candidates: Current as of Dec. 4, 2011.
Top (left-right): Robert Chisholm, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar,
Thomas Mulcair, & Niki Ashton
Bottom (left-right): Peggy Nash, Romeo Saganash, Martin Singh & Brian Topp

Image Sources: Wikipedia (Chisholm,  Dewar,
Nash, and Saganash).

Maclean's (Cullen)

Hill Times (Topp)

CBC (Mulcair)

The Huffington Post (Martin Singh)

The National Post (Ashton)

All in all, how influential will Manitoba NDP members be in this race? Eleven percent of all NDP memberships are from Manitoba and a few percentage points could tip a candidate into victory zone. If Manitoba New Democrats act as a semi-unified bloc, supporting one candidate in a great concentration, this provinces' support would mean a lot. The Manitoba NDP machine hasn't rallied around a candidate yet, so how strong the influence will be is an open question.


*See Thomas & Brown (2010, p. 46-50) for an in-depth description of this Province's political culture.

Thomas, P., & Brown, C. (2010). Manitoba politics and government: Issues, institutions, traditions . Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press.

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