Mulcair Sets Into Campaign Mode Ahead Of NDP Leadership Convention

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OTTAWA — Tom Mulcair is no stranger to political campaigns and there is one thing that is clear ahead of the NDP convention next week: he is actively working to keep his job in wake of the party's devastating election results.

The level of blame placed on Mulcair's shoulders and whether he will be turfed by his own party, will be tested as rank-and-file members congregate in Edmonton and decide if he should stay or go.

NDP President Rebecca Blaikie has suggested 70 per cent is likely the threshold of support needed for Mulcair to stay on, though the party constitution only stipulates a leadership race must be held within one year if asked for by a convention vote of at least 50 per cent plus one.

It is a critical moment for New Democrats, who are still very much reeling from the pain of crushing results that reduced the caucus to 44 seats and third place in the Commons.

thomas mulcair
NDP leader Tom Mulcair speaks with the media while attending the Progress summit in Ottawa, April 1, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Progressives gathered Friday in Ottawa for the Progress Summit — an annual event sponsored by the institute that is the brainchild of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

Mulcair, who has spent months meeting party supporters to hear post-election feedback, said some key lessons have emerged in his discussions.

"For me, as a party leader, that's been fantastic," Mulcair said Friday.

"It is rare for a party leader to be able to sit down with a candidate from a single riding and a small core team. You learn so much about the strength and depth of our team on the organizational, communications, policy side."

The NDP now needs to bring more people into the fold, he said.

"It is rare for a party leader to be able to sit down with a candidate from a single riding and a small core team."

"I want to make sure we throw the doors and the windows of the party wide open ... let in a lot of fresh air and a lot of sunlight, let in a lot more people," he said. "We have to take a much more open-door approach from now on."

On the sidelines of the summit, some party members are not convinced Mulcair is the appropriate frontman for their movement, pointing to his inability to sell the NDP's values during the course of the campaign.

It's clear the NDP needs to re-establish itself as the driver of debate in federal politics, Broadbent said during a speech.

The Liberals turned left in the last election because popular support for the NDP was strong, but much of the inequality in Canada today is the direct result of the Liberal budget of 1995, he said.

"It is for this reason that it is essential for the well-being of Canada that the NDP re-establish itself as the driver of political debate in federal politics."

'We can win'

The NDP needs to root its activism in both bold, progressive ideas and in ways to improve its appeal to the broad majority, he added.

"Winning power and providing government based on principle should always be our goal," Broadbent said.

He conceded that the 2015 election results were disappointing for New Democrats, especially considering what seemed possible, but he emphasized that a strong majority of Canadians are progressive.

"I know this in my bones," he said. "I know it from public survey data. They're there with us on the issues, whether social or economic. They're looking for a brighter future. And when social democrats present the best ideas as shown by (Alberta Premier) Rachel Notley, we can win."

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem also addressed the summit on Friday and she praised Prince Edward Island's decision to provide access to abortion by end of 2016.

"I'm glad to see you have just had another victory ... for safe and legal abortion," Steinem said.

"Together, we are moving towards the place where we will understand that reproductive freedom is a fundamental human right, like freedom of speech, like freedom of assembly, that the ability to control our bodies, women and men, from the skin in, is fundamental."

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