Over coffee or a beer, I've often heard (and repeated) that the two key endorsements among the NDP's Quebec caucus that one might seek if one was an English Canadian NDP seeking to succeed Jack Layton was Alexandre Boulerice, 38 (left), and Guy Caron, the rookie MPs from, respectively, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Though both are rookie MPs, both are skilled communicators and both have excellent connections to organized labour in Quebec, still very much a wild card in the current NDP leadership race.
Now, before we go any further. This post is about the NDP leadership and Quebec. And, at this point, it is still very much a debatable point whether Quebec will amount to a hill of beans when, next March, New Democrats convene in Toronto to select a leader. That's because New Democrats will elect their leader on a one-vote, one-person basis. There are no weighted votes for any constituency or region. And, according to the most recent membership numbers, NDP members in Quebec account for less than 6 per cent of the 95,000 or so eligible voters. And yet, Quebec was la seule raison for the NDP's big win on May 2. Quebec has 75 seats in the House of Commons and Quebecers gave all but 16 to the NDP. So, as you read through this post, keep this paradox in mind: Quebec is vitally important to the NDP so far as the caucus and the House of Commons are concerned but, if you were thinking coldly about winning the NDP leadership, you could likely blow Quebec off and still find yourself watching the tulips sprout at Stornaway next spring. In other words, Dawn Black is way more important than Pierre Ducasse. But more on Dawn Black and Pierre Ducasse in a moment. Let's turn first to the NDP in Quebec.
Guy Caron is the chair of the his party's Quebec caucus. In any other party, this is hardly a noteworthy position. The Conservative caucus is pretty much a committee of cabinet. (Four of five Conservative MPs from Quebec are in cabinet.) The Liberals have 7 Quebec MPs and it is pretty much a Montreal caucus. The BQ Quebec caucus? Well, the BQ is a Quebec caucus, of course.
But the NDP is different. They have 102 MPs in the House of Commons. And 59 of those MPs (that's coming close to two-thirds) are from the province of Quebec. And Caron is the chairperson of that group. Not only that, but before he was elected on May 2, Caron was a researcher and economist with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the CEP. This is a big union (and the only union I've ever been a member of, too boot), with lots of members in both French and English Canada. Caron himself is, in my experience, as comfortable speaking in English as he is in first language.
Boulerice, too, has a union background, as a communications advisor for the Quebec division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He once worked as a journalist for TVA/LCN. CUPE, like the CEP, has lots of connections in English Canada. And Boulerice has turned into a up-and-coming star in the House of Commons. Appointed by Jack Layton to be his party's Treasury Board critic he has, on many occasions, been one-half of the English/French one-two knockout punches the NDP have been throwing at Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement over the $50 million Muskoka boondoggle (left). I confess I do not know him well but, based on his performance in the House and based on what those who do know him well say about him, I dare say he may be better cabinet material than most of those in cabinet now whose home riding is in Québec.
For the power of their personalities, their connections, and their professional background then, Caron and Boulerice have rated at or near the top of the charts so far as NDP leadership race endorsements areconcerned.
Which is a long way of getting around to the endorsement letter out today: Boulerice explains his choice of Brian Topp:
… Artisan des dernières campagnes électorales du NPD, Brian était un des piliers de l’équipe de Jack. Sa connaissance du programme et ses talents de stratège seront des atouts de premier ordre à la Chambre des communes. Sa connaissance du Québec sera également inestimable pour conserver les 59 sièges que nous avons gagnés aux dernières élections. De plus, son expérience comme chef de cabinet adjoint dans le gouvernement du NPD en Saskatchewan sera essentielle pour faire le passage entre l’opposition officielle et une équipe aguerrie capable de gouverner.
De plus, peu de gens le savent, mais Brian est un gars bien de chez nous. Il a grandi au Québec. À Longueuil plus précisément. Parfaitement bilingue et résolu à mettre fin aux divisions entre le Québec et le reste du Canada, Brian a tout ce qu’il faut pour être un leader rassembleur. Avec Brian, je suis certain que nous saurons bâtir sur les gains au Québec et convaincre le reste du Canada de se joindre à la prochaine vague orange.
From caucus, Topp has already secured the endorsement of Françoise Boivin, Alain Giguère, and Charmaine Borg.
Caron, like Angus and many MPs, is still undeclared so far as the leadership goes. So Boulerice's endorsement is a good get, if only for defensive and strategic reasons, I think, for Topp. If Topp has Boulerice, then Boulerice isn't out using his union and journalist connections to organize and evangelize for another candidate. And the Friday night announcement of his endorsement is a bit of a counterpunch, if you will, to news, earlier this week, that Toronto-based NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash had won the endorsement of Pierre Ducasse. Ducasse, as a 29-year-old, ran against Layton for the leadership in 2003. Ducasse lost, of course, but it was to Layton's credit that the first thing he did upon winning was to reach out to Ducasse — a self-described “p’tit gars de Sept-Iles” — to get him to help Jack in Quebec. Ducasse did, in fact, give Jack a lot help in Quebec and – Thomas Mulcair's claims notwithstanding — the NDP's success on May 2 can, in many ways, be attributed to the seeds Layton and Ducasse planted way back in 2003.
So a good Quebec “get” for Nash. And,though I would be pleased to be advised otherwise,, neither Paul Dewar, Nathan Cullen, Robert Chisholm, Niki Ashton, nor Martin Singh have any significant Quebec endorsements. (Again: See caution at the top of this post that, at the end of the day, Quebec endorsements may not be that important on voting day).
Now, there are, of course, two candidates for the leadership who are already members of the Quebec NDP caucus. Romeo Saganash, the Cree leader from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou was the second person to declare his candidacy after Topp. The other is Mulcair, the MP for Outremont in Montreal. Saganash has not yet received significant endorsements from his home province.
Mulcair, on the other hand, has shown the most strength in Quebec if you are measuring strength the way the way they did it 30 or 40 years ago, in terms of caucus support. The day Mulcair announced his candidacy, he did it with nearly half of the Quebec NDP caucus standing behind him and endorsements from others who could not be there.
But Caron is still out there. He along with Karl Bélanger (the long-time press secretary of Layton and, before him, Alexa McDonough) are the two most 'influential' Quebecers still up for grabs so far as endorsements go in the NDP leadership race. (Though an organizer in Dewar's campaign messages me tonight to say that Steve Moran is right up there, too, in this category.)
So that's the update on the NDP fight in Quebec.
And, as Boulerice noted in his letter tonight endorsing Topp, everyone will be pals, anyway, at the end of this thing:
“En terminant, je m’en voudrais de ne pas souhaiter bonne chance aux huit autres candidat-e-s. La qualité des candidatures démontre la profondeur de notre équipe. Au-delà de cette amicale compétition que représente la course au leadership, je suis convaincu que nous serons tous unis pour travailler ensemble et battre Stephen Harper aux prochaines élections.”