Something that is really bothering me, given the accusations of domestic assault against Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew and now the accusations of associating with Sikh terrorism made against Jagmeet Singh, is that despide several instances of star candidates crashing and burning after a leadership campaign, NDP supporters still managed to fall for this. I will preface my explanation below by saying that this post is in no way an attempt to recall either of them from their leadership post.
Whenever there is a leadership race in a particular political party, there usually emerges one particular candidate that the media will annoint as the Saviour of the party, and who will lead the party into the Promised Land. When deciding which candidate to support, this is for me the kiss of death right there. No one has those magical capabilities. Every prospective leader is a human being, with history, biases, hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, assets, and challenges. The problem with "star candidates" is that very often they are built up during the course of the race, and information on the candidate's less desirable attributes comes out after the vote is made. I think this is a reinforcing pattern because these leaders tend to become addicted to the popularity, and they actually believe all the nonsense people say about them. This becomes a problem when the leader has to ask tough questions because coming out of this mindset they are so used to being liked, and have a hard time imagining why anybody would question them? Popularity comes and goes, but if you have no core principles on which to stand, what happens when your popularity wanes?
Take Wab Kinew. After Kevin Chief resigned his seat, all the talk was about how Kinew was the party's Messiah. He was going to lead the party to greatness, he was going to connect with young and First Nations voters, he knew how to do selfies, is what the party establishment told us. He was effectively annointed the next leader of the NDP, and given the ridiculous delegate voting system the Manitoba NDP uses, the actual leadership vote was more of a formality anyways. So Kinew is going to save the party, and then, just before the vote was held, accusations of domestic assault against him became public.
Take Jagmeet Singh. He was the last candidate entering the NDP leadership race, had almost no identifiable public policies he was willing to stand for other than applying a means test for old age benefits, and almost no name recogntion outside of the GTA. In spite of all of this, the national media built him up as some sort of super star, the messiah of the NDP, the one who was the NDP's version of Trudeau, who would connect with young voters and new Canadians, who was just so popular and liked. Now, there are accusations of associating with Sikh extremists. To be fair, I do not know enough about that to form my own opinion on the matter, and I generally distrust what the media have to say about it, given that they generally aren't telling the hard truth about what life in this country is really like for ordinary people. Still, this is information that should have come out before the leadership vote.
In both cases, you have candidates being built up, the party membership falling for it, and then all of a sudden the party and the leaders now have to deal with issues they were unprepared for, wasting valuable time and energy that could have been used to win elections. This is especially true of the NDP which can generally count on bad press when the press does pay attention to it. Furthermore, the NDP is supposed to be the party of ideas. What ideas do we need to champion? How do we articulate what it means to be social democrats in the 21st century? Why do we keep falling for this con? Sometimes it's okay to support a known candidate with massive flaws over a relative unknown who seems to be popular at the moment, because at least with the candidate with known issues, you know exactly what the critics will say and you can effectively plan to address that. But if you go with the popular candidate and then a bomb lands in the party's lap in the closing days of the election, what do you do then?