Vancouver NDP leadership debate candidate rankings
Mar 11, 2012

Vancouver NDP leadership debate candidate rankings

NDP hopefuls debate in Vancouver
The NDP's final leadership debate wrapped up today in Vancouver in advance of the March 24th leadership convention. It has been a long road since the first debate back in Ottawa, and every candidate has managed to both improve their debating skills as well as set out key policy and stylistic differences between themselves and their competitors. Between watching a couple debates and reading platforms online, I believe that everyone can make an informed choice on March 24th. The following is my rankings and commentary for the Vancouver debate.

1) Tom Mulcair:
It is always difficult to win a debate when all the rest of the candidates relentlessly attack you and put their questions to you, as they did in this debate to Tom Mulcair. On the one hand Mulcair gets the most response time, but on the other he has to defend against whatever the other candidates believe are his most vulnerable and weak point. He rose to the challenge; in fact, this was the first debate where I believe he was the unequivocal winner. He was the most policy focused of the candidates, he managed to retain a clear focus on key NDP values, and came off as articulate, intelligent and prepared. Given his status as the polling front-runner and the man to beat, he was able to firmly solidify that status in this debate.

2) Nathan Cullen:
Cullen's success or failure in a debate is usually determined by his core defining issue: the joint nomination proposal. Whatever you think of the plan, one thing is becoming clear: Cullen is far better at defending the proposal than the others are at attacking it. Maybe it is just experience since he has had to do this all over the country. He has mastered that mixture of passion and pragmatism as he defends it and I think he won all the interchanges on the joint nomination proposal in the debate. One problem he faces is that since he has to spend so much time on this issue, it can cut into his ability to speak to other issues; this is likely why he largely ignored the issue in the early debates. In this debate, however, he managed a good mixture of speaking on a wide range of issues while addressing the joint nomination proposal effectively when it was raised by others. Given his truly excellent public speaking skills he was able to win most interactions he was engaged in. For this, I rank him as second in the debate.

3) Peggy Nash:
Peggy Nash is the candidate I have most consistently ranked at or near the top in terms of debate performance. However, she lagged in the Winnipeg debate. In this debate, Nash largely regained her previous status and would have won it were it not for the stellar performances from Mulcair and Cullen. Ultimately, it is a question of style. Peggy Nash can speak very passionately about the values of the NDP and when it comes to this I don't think anyone can do it better than she can. However, Nash is much less policy-centric or detail oriented. Nash comes off as a populist compared to Mulcair's more technocratic approach.

4) Brian Topp:
I ranked Brian Topp as winning the last debate for the first time. Unfortunately, he did not perform anywhere near as well this time. In the original Ottawa debate Topp was the most negative of the candidates engaging in very direct and confrontation attacks which were relatively poorly received. In this debate Topp was cheerful, and even said the word "cheery". However, many of Topp's comments and questions fell very flat. While I think Topp's positioning on taxes for the rich is really well positioned in today's political climate, he doesn't manage to truly articulate and build enthusiasm for it.

5) Paul Dewar, and the rest of the field:
Niki Ashton and Martin Singh have always been the two at the bottom and, as before, they were enable to be truly effective in this debate. However, Paul Dewar has a significant problem in the debates. I have yet to rank him in the top couple for performance in any debate. However, according to polling and endorsements, he is a serious contender in the field in a way that Ashton and Singh are not. At some point he needed to step out in front and and provide the legitimacy of his status, yet in this final debate he was not able to do it. For example, in his opening statements he spend most of the time name dropping people in his team who the overwhelming majority of people would not know. His best points is his ability to talk about his "next 70 seats" plan to move the NDP to a majority; he was not able to articulate this effectively in this debate.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Nazar said...

very nice post, I completely agree with your rankings. I might be a little biased since I'm rooting for Mulcair

John said...

good analysis in my opinion Nathan has clearly been the best performer in these debates, coming seemingly out of nowhere to cement his current position at or near the top. Mulcair has however maintained his position on the most important issue in my mind, elect ability. I have decided to support Nathan Cullen first and then Mr. Mulcair. Either one of these people in my opinion will best be able to take the next step to government.

bazie said...

In many ways it is too bad that Cullen decided to run on the joint nomination proposal because I think he would have otherwise had a pretty decent shot at winning the election.

Anonymous said...

Mulcair is the worst candidate to root for as far as progressive candidates goes. The guy is not a progressive by a long shot! Check out "knowmulcair dot ca" The guy is Conservative stuff!!

In my opinion, Brian Topp is the real deal.

And as far as Cullen goes, if he had not made cozying up to the Liberals his central platform, he'd have a better chance.

But taking all things into consideration, Topp is the grassroots NDP guy.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised at the rankings, for several reasons. I thought this was Mulcair's flattest performance. He could barely bring himself to raise his eyes above his notes. If anything, it was even more obvious than before that he is completely unable to confront the challenge posed to him by other candidates about where he really stands on matters of political principle. His rhetoric about 'boilerplate' language hasn't advanced the issue at all, except to make even clearer his evasion of the central issue concerning where he intends to take the party. (I leave aside the questions raised by his long flirtation with the Tories, to say nothing of recent oddities in BC.)As for Cullen, I thought this was his least effective performance. Up to now, he's at least been engaging, which he wasn't particularly this time. But his main problem remains his completely inadequate answers to objections to his pre-election deal proposal. I really don't see how you can say his answers have been better than the questions about this. On the contrary, he has yet to answer even the most basic objections (such as those raised by Topp) concerning the likely effects of such a deal (even assuming the bare mechanics could be made to work in Canada's complex political environment) and the very real risk that such a deal would end by electing more, rather than fewer, Conservatives. Finally, like many others whose reactions I've canvassed, I thought this was Topp's best performance--though unlike far too many potential voters, I'm less impressed by debate performances (especially in the pretty useless format of these debates) than by substance, as demonstrated in all kinds of other ways during the campaign. And on that score, Topp is the clear winner, the one most likely to be able to take Harper on, with force, intelligence, a very quick mind, and a first-rate strategic sense--as well as a deep and passionate commitment to social democratic values.

Anonymous said...

Funny how everyone who refers to "know thomas mulcair" are Topp supporters. Just saying....

bazie said...

Part of the problem with rankings debates is that a lot of people are really partisan about it. Typically, people believe "their" candidate won the debate but even this is not certain. Personally, in the previous debate I put Topp first and have put Nash in first in previous debates as well. And I certainly don't support Mulcair in the top spot. Perhaps debate rankings in general is just not a very useful metric if we can't get people to actually agree with them:D

Now I certainly do agree that Mulcair has some serious questions to answer in terms of where exactly he wants to take the party. It is "somewhere else" but that else is not quite clear on a lot of issues.

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