What really swayed NDP voters on leadership

It’s easy to remain neutral when you don’t know who you are voting for
Mitchel Raphael on what really swayed NDP voters on leadership
Photograph by Mitchel Raphael

New leader, old pic

The photo of newly elected NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair that appeared on the NDP leadership convention screens and the flyer for his after-party is the same one he’s been using since his 2007 by-election win. One Mulcair campaign worker said the new leader actually hates the picture and is tired of seeing it. Mulcair hired Kumpa’nia, a drumming band from Montreal, for the convention. The group drummed him in with the Cuban song Comparsa, chosen “because it’s groovy,” said one drummer. To help kill time between votes, Mulcair supporters used several of his signs to build a model of 24 Sussex Dr., much to his delight. One young Brian Topp supporter built a Topp restaurant out of the candidate’s materials, with a walk-up window but no drive-through.

The button factor

Some people did not make up their minds until the first day of the convention. MP Mylène Freeman said, “It’s easy to remain neutral when you don’t know who you are voting for.” Before the final vote, Freeman had a Mulcair button, which pleased her boyfriend, David DesBaillets, a volunteer on Muclair’s campaign. One delegate, Rob Shostak, quipped that he had a few specific criteria in terms of swaying his vote: candidates had to be bilingual, which he says eliminated Paul Dewar, and they had to have a button at the convention, which eliminated Niki Ashton. Bonus points went to Peggy Nash for having the biggest button.

Where Nash was the big winner

Gabe Thirlwall, an Ottawa artist known for making finger puppets of political leaders, was working the NDP convention by putting a fair number of the leadership hopefuls into puppet form. Peggy Nash was the bestselling puppet for most of the convention, although eventually Thomas Mulcair and Nathan Cullen caught up.

‘How very Stéphane Dion’

Some candidates tried to distinguish themselves by branding their supporters in colours besides NDP orange. Nathan Cullen’s was green and his team had green scarves. “How very Stéphane Dion,” snipped a delegate in another camp, referring to the 2006 Liberal leadership race in which Dion supporters sported green scarves. Niki Ashton opted for blue. “More Bloc blue than Conservative blue,” said one delegate. Peggy Nash went for purple, which avoided association with any other party in the House of Commons.

Will curls make a comeback?

The NDP leadership race spiffed up at least two candidates on the hair front. Brian Topp went way shorter and Paul Dewar got rid of his signature curls. Dewar’s wife, Julia Sneyd, says now that the leadership race is over, “I’ll be fighting to get the curls back.”

Phew, not moving to Ottawa

The silver lining of Brian Topp not winning the NDP leadership is that his teenage sons, Simon Topp and Alex Topp, don’t have to move to Ottawa. One has a girlfriend in Toronto and both are entrenched in their high schools. Had Topp won, his wife said, the family would have had to have a conversation about relocating to the capital. The boys are very close to their father and were smiling by his side the entire convention.

Olivia’s big surprise

A small surprise birthday gathering was held during the convention for Olivia Chow, at which she was presented with a huge painting of her late husband, Jack Layton, by Montreal artist Christel Marchand. The trick to get Chow to the room was to tell her she had one more interview with, an alternative news website. Rabble publisher Kim Elliott, a friend, says she was surprised that Chow, after a long day of non-stop network and print interviews, still agreed to show up.