Gerry Rogers is smiling again now that Earle McCurdy has agreed to be the NDP Kevin Aylward.
If Earle had decided to stay retired, Gerry was the substitute leader the key inside factions of the party had tapped to fill-in until after the next election. Rogers would have had to take one for the team, just like her Liberal namesake did in 2007.
Now that McCurdy is in, the party executive will announce some leadership process that either completely avoids a convention (like the Conservatives in 2010) or puts up a sham competition (as in the NDP 2014 leadership review).
Drew Brown recently likened the next NDP leader to the Liberal’s last-minute substitute in 2011. Fair enough. Any possible change for the party will come in the future.
While Brown’s analogy is workable, there is a difference between the two parties. The emergence of McCurdy as the leader-of-choice means that the people dominating the party are firmly in control. McCurdy is the choice of the unions (who control the party finances) and the older activists represented by Lorraine herself. recall that Lorraine initially said she wouldn’t quit. She later changed her mind, saying that she would give up her seat for the right leader. That was a clear a sign as there could be that the key factions that control the party were lobbying Earle as hard as possible to take the job.
The NDP have no chance of electing new candidates whenever the next election comes. They will be lucky to get Earle into the House in the event of a by-election, the rantings of a long-time activist in a university pub notwithstanding. If they do get Earle in and he gets re-elected, the odds are against any of the other New Democrats hanging onto their seats let alone having the party win more.
Those new members in the House made the difference for the Liberals in 2011. They are the ones who drove change, along with other allies, against the inertia in the party executive. Otherwise, the Liberals would be, as SRBP said in 2011/2012, as much as four election cycles away from being potentially viable as a political force again.
It’s useful to go back to the fall of 2011 and look at the two opposition parties. Both were in roughly the same place in the House. The New Democrats were better placed than the Liberals. They had a leader and clear momentum in public opinion. The Liberals faced a long slog to sort out their leadership and in the meantime, they had a mixed bag of individuals who were elected largely on their own merits.
The public opinion polls initially reflected that difference in the public eye. But the difference came out of the internal differences. Rather than foster change, Lorraine Michael kept control of all the caucus resources and staff. She strictly controlled what her caucus could say in public. She acted as if everything was as it had been, with Lorraine at the centre and everything and everyone else supporting her.
After a while that showed through. While the New Democrats did climb in the polls and, at one point, were in first place, the reality is that they plateaued. They went as far as the Lorraine-centred universe would go. And so with no change, with no signs of change, and with no effort to capitalise on their momentum, the party ran out of steam.
In the other opposition party, the new caucus members and some allies within the party executive started to make changes. Things didn't;t go smoothly and there wasn’t always agreement. Still the people who wanted change kept pushing. Slowly, they got their way. In the meantime, the new caucus under Dwight Ball started to work out an attitude and an approach to gain public confidence.
While some people think the polls reflect nothing, the reality is that the Liberals worked hard for a long while to quietly build public support. The leadership campaign played a huge role in drawing people to the party and drawing attention to what they were doing. People who claim that the Liberal standing in the polls is built on nothing simply haven’t been paying attention.
Earle McCurdy may prove to be a temporary leader of the party. The NDP may move to find a new leader after the next election.
There’s no doubt, though, that McCurdy represents the Old Guard and the Union Bosses, the two factions that control the party. There’s nothing about him or the people behind his candidacy that suggests change, a new direction, or reform. That could be a completely wrong impression but it sure looks like Earle’s getting the job because he promises to keep things in the New Democratic Party exactly as they have been for years. Given a choice between change and the unsuccessful “same”, the province’s New Democrats picked Earle McCurdy and the extra dollop of sameness that goes with him.