Obsessed as I am with the politics of the left, I have become increasingly anti-social because I find few people who think and feel the way I do. But at the 2012 NDP leadership convention, I found myself in a microcosm of congeniality and companionship.
Of course the conventional media people who were sent to interpret and explain to the rest of the world what was going down among convention delegates were a different kind of presence altogether. I regretted talking to a Sun TV reporter who wanted to know what I thought of the T-Shirt my 15-year-old daughter asked me to buy. The words Anger, Fear and Despair were crossed out on this T-shirt, and “LOVE, HOPE & OPTIMISM WILL CHANGE THE WORLD” and “Merci, Jack” were printed on it. It wasn’t that I minded sharing my still raw emotions about the loss of Jack Layton; it was when the journalist started asking more questions about my views on the oil sands and the Keystone pipeline project that it became clear he wanted to paint a negative picture of my party’s position on these energy projects.
It is this tension with the way that most of the media have represented the convention that makes me cringe.
For example, the media made much with what they saw as an attack on Thomas Mulcair by Ed Broadbent in the week leading up to the convention. I do not doubt that Broadbent, who had been supporting Brian Topp from day one, was doing his best to shore up pre-convention support for Brian, whom the media had almost completely written off. Meanwhile, much attention was being devoted to Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar, and also to the surge in support for Nathan Cullen. This was fuelled by studies of which candidates had raised the most funds during the campaign. At a Thursday evening get-together at Joe Badali’s Restaurant with Nathan Cullen’s youth squad campaign team, I congratulated them on the very creative fundraising email they had sent out that was so apologetic about asking for a donation that I certainly couldn’t resist sending money. That’s when they told me how donations continued to flood in when the follow up email had as its subject line, “We are not asking for money this time.”
By Friday afternoon on the floor, though, it had become obvious to me that Topp was going to do very well as his mapped out section on the floor started swelling with supporters whose hugging and kissing reminded me of a late 1960s love-in. As I joined the adjoining Cullen section, a group of Kingston delegates laughed to see my daughter sit down with the Topp supporters. I told them I was relieved I had not brought a brainwashed, tag-along kid to vote the same way I would be voting. That would be anathema to the principles of the party! And my daughter’s insistence on joining the Topp group was evidence of the very effective phone campaign their organizing team had conducted outside of the media’s limited realm of knowledge. The Topp campaign won her support legitimately, from within.
This convention was different from previous ones because instead of the candidates giving traditional speeches, they had 20 minutes to use multi-media along with the live speech to make their case. I have no idea why the CBC coverage, which many delegates saw later that evening, referred only to this period as having been “speeches,” about which they were mostly negative. Delegates who checked out the coverage later that evening were quite disgusted with how CBC and the prestigious “At Issue” panel thought these presentations embarrassing for many of the candidates.
I personally would prefer to see the party go back to speechmaking, but that’s because a leader’s public speaking skills are so important, not because I was disappointed by the presentations. Important to remember, though, that Pierre Ducasse gave the most moving speech of the 2003 convention, but no one could say he would have made a better leader than Jack.
Everyone put on a white “I am the Layton Legacy” T-shirt for a bittersweet tribute to Jack’s memory. Afterwards, my daughter and I went back to Joe Badali’s, where there was literally an “Orange Crush.” Although this was supposed to be the designated place for Nathan Cullen supporters only, it was obvious that some of the Mulcair people had joined us. Our Cullen campaign seemed in fact to have incredible momentum. I had high hopes that Cullen would end up on the final ballot with Mulcair. I told this to Ellie Kirzner of Toronto’s Now magazine. She seemed surprised I was from Québec and supporting Cullen from BC. I told her some of us Québec delegates were seeing some of the same qualities in Nathan that we had seen in Jack.
© Louise Tremblay Matchett 2012
Photo: R. Liberman
Louise Tremblay Matchett attended Concordia’s Liberal Arts College and L’institut Simone de Beauvoir. After spending a few years doing outreach work for the Toronto area worker co-operative movement, Louise returned to Montreal and has been earning her living as a small business administrator. Since 2004, Louise has been employed with e-commerce service provider, iCongo, which recently merged with European based, Hybris Software. She is also the Treasurer of the NDP in the riding of St-Laurent-Cartierville and recently went to the NDP Leadership convention as a delegate.