Three days from now, the federal NDP will pick a new leader from among the seven remaining candidates, a group that includes Churchill MP Niki Ashton, who represents Thompson and many other Northern Manitoba communities. The new leader of the opposition will take the reins just over seven months after the beloved and well-respected Jack Layton died last Aug. 22, a few months after leading Canada's perennial third or fourth party to its best showing ever, capturing more than 100 seats and taking over from the Liberal party as Canada's Official Opposition.
But are any of them - is anyone - up to the challenge of maintaining that momentum through four more years of merely moral victories against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives?
Interim leader Nycole Turmel is probably a very nice and intelligent person who's passionate about certain issues and has ideas about the way things should be. Unfortunately, we haven't really heard about them and maybe that's the way an interim leader should be. Bland. Uninspiring. Stéphane Dion. Provided, of course, that the interim leadership period is short, and the leadership candidates are high profile and the party doesn't squander the gains it's made ... which, well, um ... oops.
Sure, the long campaign gave the party lots of time to sign up new members, which will help with fundraising in the future but, seriously, do they ever think they're going to compete with the Conservatives in that arena?
Meanwhile, the leadership candidates, who had to resign their critic roles during the contest (to ensure fairness, which the NDP is big on), have been mostly invisible, to the point that I, an interested if not avid follower of politics, could probably only pick out Ashton, Thomas Mulcair and Martin Singh out of a police line-up.
At the same time, scandal the likes of which has never tainted the Conservatives since they first formed a minority government, mainly in the form of the investigation of misleading robocalls, which may or may not be linked to the party, has provided a perfect bully pulpit for someone to step forward and lead the opposition to the government. Unfortunately for the NDP, that person is Bob Rae of the Liberals, who apparently doesn't realize how an interim leader should behave, even if he is ostensibly going to be prevented from seeking the permanent leadership of the party. Unless, of course, his popularity makes it convenient to ignore that principle, the type of improvisation that helped the Liberals spend so long as the "natural governing party of Canada."
Whoever gets the job, it's going to be mostly a thankless task, at least until there's another election. Depending on how the NDP does then, the leader will be praised for building on the foundation that Jack built, or for squandering the former leader's gains, which were mainly in Quebec. At that point, whoever wins the leadership this weekend or whoever succeeds that leader following their resignation, depending on how the party performs, can begin an even harder task, not of building on Layton's legacy, but of making the party their own.