It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two CitiesThere are two NDPs and there is no starker contrast between the two than the orange wave that swept across Canada on May 2nd 2011 and the mechanical grind that is taking place in Toronto today.
This leadership convention with its multiple deficiencies of poor turnout, technological glitches, failures in planning highlights that there are actually two NDPs: one is the New Democratic Party of public perception, strong, idealistic and popular; the other is the New Democratic Party of reality, unorganized, unsure, and flawed.
One of the largest gulfs between the NDP public image and the NDP reality that exists currently in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is turnout. In the general election of May 2nd the NDP enjoyed record levels of support, today at the NDP leadership the party is suffering one of its lowest.
First ballot results show slightly less than a 50% vote turnout, proportionately less than the turnout of the party's last leadership convention in 2003 and certainly less than the 71% who voted recently in the 2011 BC NDP leadership race. The turnout has only continued to decrease to 45% for the second ballot and will very likely decrease to 40% by the end of the day. The difference that exists between the party that excited Canadians just months ago and the party at the convention that cannot even excite its own members could not be clearer
Organization is yet another divide between the two NDPs. Whereas the last election was heralded as a turning point in New Democrat election operations, rising against the faltering Liberal machine and the monolithic Conservative giant, this convention with its many problems only demonstrates the clogged gears of this real clockwork orange.
Problems with voting have delayed this convention three times now, online party media is perhaps the worst of any recent convention, and poor overall planning of the event's schedule has the most devoted party members voicing disappointment. And even prior to the vote problems in organization were visible with membership drives failing to live up to expectations. Thomas Mulcair's campaign had aimed to sign up 20,000 new members in Quebec yet only managed to sign up half of that.
Though this convention has shown a different NDP, the existence of a parallel organization that is more real and flawed than the illusory and idealistic version, it does not mean there is subjugation of one to the other. A strong base of public support can strengthen an organization just as a party organization can strengthen public support. But just as benefit from one can transcend to the other, so too can harm; keeping them separate to prevent that however only guarantees it.
This convention has told a tale of two NDPs, one of image and one of reality, keeping them separate will only continue the divide between perception and organization. In the end a future victory for this party will not depend on a strong NDP image and a future failure will not depend on a weak NDP structure; the party's future rests on how long it focuses on one and ignores the other.
Best of Times - NDP Support
-Best election ever. On May 2nd 2011 the party won the largest victory in its history.
-Most Quebec MPs ever. New Democrats dominated Quebec at an unprecedented level.
-Orange wave. Canadians had unparalled interest and enthusiasm for the NDP, clearly making it a viable alternative.
-High support. Polls show continued support for the NDP even comparable or equal to the support for Conservatives.
Worst of Times - NDP Organization
-Low membership. Leading up to the NDP leadership convention there was lower than expected membership sales, especially in Quebec. Thomas Mulcair had aimed for 20,000 new members in that province but only signed up half as many.
-Low voter turnout. There was slightly less than 50% turnout in the first ballot, 45% turnout in the second ballot, and will very likely only decrease in the remaining votes.
-Poor organization. This convention has been widely acknowledged to be poorly planned, a schedule with many gaps, little excitement, hours of multiple delays in voting, and practically non-existent online participation on the party's website.