Mulcair Shoulders Blame For 2015 Election Results In Letter To NDP Supporters

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OTTAWA — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has written a personal letter to supporters taking full responsibility for the dismal results of the October election campaign and saying he could have done better.

The note follows the release of an interim report from a post-mortem working group which says the campaign failed to resound with voters.

Mulcair, who has been peppered with questions about his own political future after the Oct. 19 vote, said the report provides a convincing summary of some of the specific lapses in the campaign's preparation and execution.

thomas mulcair
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair leaves a press conference in Ottawa in January. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

"I agree with the overarching assessment that our campaign came up short," he said. "As leader, I take full responsibility for these shortcomings. I could have done a better job."

Rebecca Blaikie, the party's president who is leading the election post-mortem, told party faithful on Tuesday that many believe the NDP presented "cautious change" as opposed to "real change" that the Liberals claimed to offer.

They feel the campaign lacked a strong, simple narrative that made it more difficult to present a co-ordinated national campaign, she added.

A full report is expected to be released in March, just ahead of the party's April convention in Edmonton, where Mulcair will face a review to determine his future as leader.

"As leader, I take full responsibility for these shortcomings. I could have done a better job."

Mulcair maintains he is committed to staying at the helm and that he will make the changes needed to ensure the mistakes of the last campaign are never repeated.

As the party continues to soul-search, there are several thorny questions that need to be addressed.

For example, how did the party go into the election with its highest seat count in history, as well as richer coffers than ever before, and walk away with only 44 seats?

Too cautious, too afraid of mistakes

One concern is that the party spent far too much energy trying to avoid mistakes in the lead-up to the election, Mulcair said in his Wednesday letter.

"I believe this contributed directly to that sense of cautiousness that is referred to in the interim report," Mulcair said. "We must embrace a more proactive approach, one where caucus members are invited to initiate projects that help us reach out to the people we represent."

Mulcair also acknowledged the party's balanced budget pledge was a problem during the campaign — a change from a televised interview on Tuesday, in which he would not concede this was a mistake.

"We are addressing the important observation from the interim report that the campaign lacked an overarching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals," he said. "This became apparent when our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision."

Despite the disappointment, confidence in the NDP's core social democratic values remains rock-solid, Mulcair wrote.

"I am inspired by that confidence and resolved to better articulate our vision and communicate it more effectively to all Canadians," he said.

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Mulcair's full letter:

Dear NDP Members,

I would like to thank Rebecca Blaikie first and foremost for accepting to Chair the Campaign Review Working Group. Her dedication to our movement is truly inspiring. The Interim Report already provides us with many insights that will allow us to learn from the mistakes of the last campaign and correct them for the future.

Despite deep disappointment, there remains within the Party a rock solid confidence in our core social democratic values. I am inspired by that confidence and resolved to better articulate our vision and communicate it more effectively to all Canadians. I have also been heartened by the wellspring of goodwill across the country for our goal of a fairer, more progressive Canada.

Being ahead in the polls for the first half of the campaign and then falling back to third by election day, only increased the disappointment among members, our candidates and myself. As a direct consequence, many experienced and passionate colleagues are no longer with us in the House. We were shut out of key areas such as Atlantic Canada and Toronto. Our reduced Caucus also meant that many of our brilliant and dedicated staff lost their jobs. And while we were all heartened by our first victories in Saskatchewan in 5 elections and our superb performance on Vancouver Island, these positive results could not take away from a shared sense of loss.

The interim report provides a cogent summary of some of the specific lapses in the campaign preparation and execution. I agree with the over-arching assessment that our campaign came up short. As Leader, I take full responsibility for these shortcomings. I could have done a better job. It is my duty to the party and to you, our members, to learn from and to apply the lessons of the review.

If members grant me the honour of continuing to serve them, I am determined to make the necessary changes so that the mistakes of the campaign will never be repeated. Some of the changes have already started.

To begin with, I'm thrilled with the shared sense of solidarity and dynamism that has accompanied the arrival of my Chief-of-Staff, Party veteran Raymond Guardia. He is one of our most experienced organizers and is highly respected by all. New Deputy Chief-of-Staff Jordan Leichnitz is a woman who has made her mark on the policy front and represents strong renewal as well. Together, Ray and Jordan are overseeing the restructuring of our parliamentary operations. On the Party side, stalwart Karl Bélanger will be bringing his own vast knowledge into the role of Interim National Director, and will work to ensure that our convention in Edmonton lays out the path for our Party’s growth and future victories.

Second, we are overhauling the way Caucus works. We spent far too much energy trying to avoid mistakes in the lead-up to the last election. I believe this contributed directly to that sense of cautiousness that is referred to in the Interim Report. We must embrace a more pro-active approach, one where caucus members are invited to initiate projects that help us reach out to the people we represent. We held a very successful Caucus retreat a few weeks ago and this change is under way. Charlie Angus, as our new Caucus Chair, is as determined as I am for us to succeed in this
transformation.

Third, the parliamentary wing must work more closely with the party and the grass-roots. Sheri Benson, our new MP from Saskatoon West, now sits on executive with the mandate to ensure this happens. As for the upcoming Convention, it is my fervent hope that members elect a President and an Executive who will attract new people and breathe new energy into the structures of the Party. I am profoundly convinced that respect between the Party and Caucus, and specifically respectful dialogue, will make us stronger. This is an essential undertaking. Our base has to know that they are the underpinning of any future electoral success.

Fourth, we are addressing the important observation from the interim report that the campaign lacked an over-arching narrative that could easily communicate our progressive proposals. This became apparent when our commitment to balancing the budget overshadowed our social democratic economic vision which saw new government revenues generated through higher taxes for corporations, closing CEO tax loopholes and a crackdown on tax havens. Going forward, we cannot content ourselves with simply keeping track of which promises the Liberals deliver on and which they break.

As I outlined in my speech during our caucus strategy meeting, we do this by offering a vision that is based on our shared values and the people we represent. We believe fundamentally in a strong role for government in reducing inequality and increasing opportunity in our society.

For example, when it comes to income inequality, we know that over the past generation, economic growth of more than 50% has not been of any benefit to the vast majority of Canadians who built that economy. Canada's CEO's can make 200 times the salary of a worker while families see their purchasing power decrease. I believe this is grossly unacceptable.

In an era where banks can eliminate thousands of jobs while at the same time paying their executives $12 billion in bonuses, our task is clear. Only social democrats are denouncing situations like the one facing 20,000 Steel workers in Hamilton. Their retirement stands to be destroyed because successive Conservative and Liberal Governments refuse to act. They know they can trust us to be on their side.

In closing, the review Rebecca and her team are conducting will permit us to be in a stronger position to fight for a fairer economy and to reduce inequality in our society.

Thanks again to Rebecca and I would also like to thank the thousands of you that have participated and I look forward to continuing the conversation when we get the final report.

In solidarity,

Tom Mulcair.

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