NDP Leadership Race 2017: Party Hopes To Bring 'Excitement' Back To Convention

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OTTAWA — Think of it as a typical political leadership convention, with candidates jostling for support in a series of ballots — except without any actual gathering of delegates and with the voting taking place largely online.

That is the format the federal New Democrats will use to pick a replacement for the outgoing Tom Mulcair.

But first they'll need candidates. So far, only British Columbia MP Peter Julian has declared he wants the job after officially entering the race Feb. 12.

The party announced Friday that balloting in the leadership contest will begin Sept. 18, the day after a "showcase" event featuring all of the candidates.

ndp convention
Thomas Mulcair was rejected in his bid to stay on as NDP leader in April 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

New Democrats hope the format helps to capture some of the drama of a traditional convention, even though party faithful will pick a successor to Mulcair through a mainly online voting process which could stretch over weeks. Votes can also be cast by mail.

"The idea here is that we're preserving the one member, one vote democracy, where all of our members will have the chance to cast a ballot for the new leader," said Rick Devereux, the party's director of leadership.

"But we're bringing back the excitement of the balloted, delegated convention of the past."

Results of the first round of voting are to be announced Oct. 1. Subsequent rounds, if needed, are scheduled each week thereafter until one candidate receives more than half the votes, with a possible fifth round result by Oct. 29.

Series of debates scheduled

Candidates knocked off the ballot after each round will be able to endorse any of the other remaining candidates. At that point party members will have the chance to change their votes to another contender.

"And so we might see, over the course of weeks, candidates challenging each other on certain issues," said Devereux.

"This model means that ... people will be organizing phone trees, telephone town halls, public meetings, rallies," added NDP national director Robert Fox.

A series of debates throughout the spring and summer will build up to the showcase event in Toronto where candidates can give speeches, play videos, enlist performers or do anything else they think could attract votes.

In the last leadership vote in 2012, candidates made their big pitches to would-be supporters after advance voting had ended. The vast majority of voters had already cast ballots by then and the candidates' pitches didn't impact the results.

'One fantastic and wild ride'

That convention, which chose Mulcair to replace Jack Layton, who had died the previous August, was also marred by low voter turnout and attacks on the party's online voting system, which caused frustration and forced a delay in reaching a final count.

Julian kicked off this race last weekend, vowing to build a country "where everyone matters and no one is left behind," and promising to get rid of post-secondary tuition fees, create new jobs and oppose projects such as Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Keystone XL pipeline.

The same day, Quebec MP Guy Caron stepped aside as the NDP's finance critic to consider a leadership bid.

Other possible contenders include Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Ontario deputy NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

charlie angus
NDP MP Charlie Angus is a possible contender in the party's leadership race. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Angus could be the next contender. While he has so far only said he was contemplating a run for the job, a posting Friday on his Facebook page for a party in Toronto next weekend left little to the imagination.

"Come out and get active in what will be one fantastic and wild ride," the invite reads.

Singh also said this week he is now "seriously considering" putting his name on the ballot after initially thinking the support shown him was "a bit of a fluke."

The first of several leadership debates is scheduled for March 12 in Ottawa.

Prospective candidates have until July 3 to officially enter the race. And Canadians have until Aug. 17 to sign a membership card if they want to be eligible to vote.

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