As we all learned from my most recent column, the NDP leadership race is currently running neck-in-neck with Arctic Air in the contest to see who can produce the last compelling form of government-run entertainment.
The reasons are basically two-fold: 1) there are way too many people trying to become NDP leader, and 2) whenever there are too many candidates and a party uses a convoluted "preferential ballot" system that picks the winner through a combined tally of second, third, and fourth-place preferences, it becomes virtually impossible to predict or analyze anything about the race until the moment the winner is announced (who by then might as well have been picked by that World Cup octopus).
So the quest for our friends in the press has been to find some angle on the NDP race beyond the traditional "Hey, who's winning?" narrative that has served so well over the last few centuries.
My favourite attempt comes from the always-entertaining Paul Wells at Maclean's, who openly admits that the NDP's voting system, coupled with a lack of reliable polls, has guaranteed that "there's a lot of guesswork in anyone's analysis," and proceeds to offer some of his own. Wells theorizes that the NDP is probably mindful of the consequences that could result from "everybody's second choice" (i.e. one of the lesser-known, non-Brian Topp, non-Thomas Mulcair candidates) being installed as their leader, and suspects a Topp-Mulcair conspiracy might arise to prevent this.
If all the Topp people stick Mulcair in the second place spot on their cute ranked ballots and vice versa, then theoretically one of the "big two" would probably have a better chance of winning than some rando.
Lawrence Martin at the Globe and Mail reads the entrails somewhat differently, and in a particularly gossipy column, talks to some big NDP muckity-mucks who speculate about (or at least explicitly refuse to deny the plausibility of) a Topp partnership with also-ran candidate Peggy Nash to take down Mr. Mulcair.
It of course does not trouble Larry that Canada's prime ministerial candidates are being chosen via some sort of Survivor-like game of secret back room alliances involving unnamed party "organizers" and big labour unions, because, you know, intrigue! (Martin's column, by the way, is illustrated with a nice map asking "Who would finish first in a hypothetical NDP primary?" which should probably give you a good idea of the degree of boredom the mainstream press is having with this story.)
Fun as the reality TV angle may be, Joan Bryden of the Canadian Press does her best to throw cold water on the gossipmongers by noting that "the vast majority of the party's more than 100,000 members will vote by mail or through the Internet," meaning that Brian, Tom, and Peggy can form all the alliances they want and it won't really matter, since these newfangled voting systems have essentially rendered the old style of Canadian party conventions, when candidates "made a big show of crossing the floor to throw their support to a rival," a thing of the past. One always detects such a poignant hint of sadness when reporters note this. Watching sweat-drenched politicians waddle across ticker-tape strewn ballrooms was basically their Woodstock.
But what of the candidates themselves? Even if he can't predict who's going to win, a good pundit will always be able to sort everyone into nice ideological boxes, which makes it seem like there is a once-in-a-lifetime "battle for the soul of the party" afoot. (The phrase "battle for the soul of the party" gets six million results on Google, incidentally.)
John Ivison at the National Post describes the race as a clash "between the pragmatists -- Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Cullen," which is a polite way of saying "boring, middle-of-the-road people," and "the ideologues -- Mr. Topp, Ms. Nash and, perhaps, Mr. Dewar," which is a polite way of saying "commies."
This seems to be the mainstream consensus at the moment, with the only dissent coming from actual commies like Murray Cooke in the New Socialist, who describes all the candidates sans Ms. Nash as "leaning right." In any case, it doesn't really require much to get described as an NDP moderate these days. Just don't openly advocate collective farming and the press is likely to hail your strategic brilliance in "helping move the party to the centre."
If you're anything like me, you're probably having a hard time telling Paul Dewar and Nathan Cullen apart, but luckily the press has two handy narratives to separate them. Dewar is the B.C. guy we're all supposed to fret about because he can't speak French, which Chantal Hebert at the Toronto Star finds very offensive, and makes her question "how serious his many outside-Quebec backers really are about building on Layton's legacy in the province." The nerve! It's like he thinks it's possible to win a majority government without Quebec or something.
Cullen, on the other hand, is the guy who wants the NDP and the Liberals to kinda sorta maybe think about starting to cooperate under a set of very limited and specific circumstances that while certainly not a merger, might almost nearly put the parties on a suggested course to think about perhaps broaching the possibility someday? For this, the press agrees he is very brave.
The one guy no one has much to say about is Martin Singh. The press can't even seem to agree on what his job is. Sometimes he's an impressive-sounding "businessman" with Don Draper suits and three-Martini lunches, and sometimes he's a lowly "pharmacist" stuffing Gravol jars at Safeway. The only interesting thing about the man -- the fact that he's a white guy who converted to Sikhism in adulthood and now wears an enormous untamed beard and giant black turban -- is never really examined critically, since our open-minded press guardians aren't bigots or something.
But in the context of a party desperately trying to cultivate an image of "ready to rule" maturity, it doesn't seem that untoward for at least someone to ask if this fellow, who could not project "outside the mainstream" rays harder if he tried, has had any negative impact on the NDP's branding efforts, dontcha think?