Delegates voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to proceed with a leadership election.
“If you keep standing with me, then together we will never stop fighting,” he said. “So stand with me. Stand if you want to fight to grow our party and strengthen our movement. Stand up to inequality. Stand if you want to unite progressives in Quebec with those in the rest of the country. Stand for peace.
Mulcair spoke immediately before delegates began to vote on whether to launch a new leadership race. Such a vote is taken at every NDP biennial convention, but since the NDP fell to third place in last fall’s election, Mulcair’s leadership has been in question.
Ahead of this weekend’s convention, it had been speculated that a vote of 70 per cent against a new leadership election would have been enough to sustain Mulcair’s hold on the party helm, even if the party constitution only requires a simple majority. But the final result left no ambiguity.
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Arriving on stage in Edmonton, Mulcair shrugged and joked, “no pressure.”
In a 31-minute address, Mulcair dwelled on the spectre of income inequality, invoking the struggles of Canadians who “feel like the deck is stacked against them.”
The NDP leader did not linger on last fall’s election result, but acknowledged the “deep disappointment” of New Democrats and took “responsibility” for the result. Mulcair presented the NDP as a party that “pressed on” against adversity and doubt.
Mulcair turned emotional as he recalled a woman he met who couldn’t afford the test strips for her diabetes and spoke of how his father and had lost his legs to the disease. “I wish I could have told Colleen that universal pharmacare was now a reality,” he said, referring to an NDP campaign commitment. “But it’s not possible. Yet. It’s not possible yet.”
The NDP leader received a standing ovation when he was introduced and his speech brought New Democrats to their feet a half dozen times. When he asked delegates to stand with him at the end of his remarks, most did so and applauded.
But that applause did not translate into votes.
“I’m saddened,” said NDP House leader Peter Julian, who had publicly expressed support for Mulcair, “but I’m also very proud of the work that Tom Mulcair did in the House of Commons. Without the work he did in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper would still be prime minister. I’m convinced of that.”
Mulcair’s performance as leader of the official opposition was widely applauded, but it was his failure to become prime minister that set the stage for Sunday’s rejection. Though, in an interview after the vote, NDP MP Charlie Angus said the result was not about the NDP result in 2015.
“The delegates sent a really clear message,” Angus said. “This wasn’t being sore losers about 2015. This was pragmatic talk about where are we going, where are we going to be in 2019. That’s what I heard all weekend, what’s the vision for it? I think people decided that we need to make change.”
While Julian said Mulcair had done everything he could to keep his job, Angus said his sense was that delegates felt Mulcair did not do enough to reach out in Edmonton.
Shortly before Mulcair was due on stage, party delegates adopted a resolution that would have New Democrats include the Leap Manifesto in its deliberations about the future direction of the party.
The resolution was fiercely debated on the floor, with Alberta New Democrats expressing particular concern about the implications for the oil industry, and the vote revealed a party that is very divided over the document.
That debate will now ultimately be for a new NDP leader to navigate.