After nearly a two year process, the federal New Democratic Party leadership race is entering the final stretch.
Voting for the first ballot began on Monday in a preferential, ranked choice system that requires 50 per cent plus one in order to declare a winner.
Four candidates have emerged, as Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh lead the way as candidates on the leadership ballot, while three others withdrew over the course of the campaign.
A winner should be declared by Oct. 15, that will replace current party leader Thomas Mulcair, who lost a leadership vote in Edmonton in 2016.
Wayne Stetski, who represents Kootenay-Columbia as member of the NDP, says the party is looking forward to the conclusion of the race.
“It’s been an interesting time, for sure,” Stetski said. “The veterans who have been around for a while say that it’s been a very unusual time so I think it’s quite remarkable that caucus has stayed as focused and collegial as it has been.
“From that perspective it’s been good.”
Angus, Ashton and Caron are all federal MPs elected in Ontario or Quebec, while Singh is an Ontario MPP who was deputy leader of the provincial NDP. The federal MPs have all served in opposition critic roles; Angus has been critic of Indigenous Affairs, Ashton has been critic of Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development as well as shadow minister for Status of Women, while Caron has been critic for Minister of Natural Resources and Industry.
Singh has been an Ontario MPP for Bramalea—Gore—Malton since 2011 and ran federally as the NDP candidate in the same riding in 2011, losing by just over 500 votes to Conservative candidate Bal Gosal.
Singh was recently thrust into the national media spotlight during a campaign event in Ontario, where a heckler caught on video said the candidate was a Muslim and wanted to impose strict religious laws. However, Singh — a turban-wearing Sikh — deflected the heckler by telling the room that he loved them, respected them and would protect their rights.
Stetski said that the wide range of candidates will only serve the NDP well.
“As a party we certainly pride ourselves on diversity and supporting diversity of all kinds,” he said. “I think its great that the people who want to be leaders come from a very mixed backgrounds, mixed interests, culturally diverse — I think that’s one of the strengths of the NDP.”
While Stetski declined to publicly endorse a particular candidate, he had previously thrown his support behind Peter Julian, an NDP MP representing New Westminster – Burnaby, who dropped out of the race in July.
Whomever emerges as the winner of the leadership vote will have to helm the party through a general election that could go down as early as 2019.
The NDP took a huge hit in the 2015 general election, going from 103 seats and official opposition status against the previous Conservative government to third party status with 51 seats behind the Conservatives as opposition to the Liberal majority.
Much of those losses can be attributed to the Liberals flipping NDP ridings as Justin Trudeau and the Grits rode a red wave to Ottawa garnering a majority 184 seats.
The future NDP leader will have a tall task to win back that support they lost to the Liberals.
“Certainly I think we need to get our messaging, our policies and what we want to do for Canada out there in a more creative way than we have over the last two years or so,” Stetski said. “We need someone who can basically stand side-by-side with Justin Trudeau and people can look and compare and contrast the two and feel that the NDP is offering them what they want to see, in terms of a future for Canada.
“So they have to be able to debate, discuss and really provide a clear vision of where the NDP want to go in a positive way.”
For local NDP party members, voting opened on Monday, Sept. 18 via the Internet or mail-in ballot. If a single candidate doesn’t achieve a 50 per cent plus one threshold of support, second and third ballots will be required and will take place on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, respectively.