After the first ballot at the NDP leadership convention, Michael Prue was dropped from the ballot after getting only 11.5% of the vote.
While his 4th-place finish wasn’t necessarily a surprise, the number of votes he received was strikingly low, especially given his solid experience and a performance in the race that people seem to agree was reasonably strong. There are many explanations — one crucial factor was his almost complete lack of labour union support (union votes were, in addition, weighed upwards so that they made up 25% of the total vote — not exactly a one-member-one-vote system).
But, given that he was the only candidate to make city issues a central part of his platform, it also raises the question of whether city issues are really on the radar of the NDP’s membership. In an interview with Spacing after the first-ballot results, Prue said that he didn’t see any of the other three candidates talk about city issues. “Tell me,” he asked Spacing, “who else had an urban agenda?”
The issues that the other candidates have brought up (environment, health, manufacturing jobs) certainly apply to cities, as well as everywhere else. But the other three candidates have also brought up issues that apply to specific areas (e.g. Northern Ontario, rural Ontario), clearly in response to interest from NDP members. Yet there seems to be little demand from the membership to address the issues specific to cities that Prue addressed.
The Liberal government, meanwhile, although it has not been radical, has introduced a whole series of measures specific to cities, and to the Greater Toronto Area in particular — creating Metrolinx, funding transit expansion, creating the Green Belt, passing the City of Toronto Act, even modifying the Ontario Municipal Board’s mandate (a little). While there is plenty to discuss about each of these measures, it does show that cities in general, and the Greater Toronto Area in particular, are firmly in the Liberal government’s radar. And urban ridings are the backbone of the Liberal majority.
The NDP has some natural affinities with urban issues — the fact that the new leader will be a former city councillor, either Andrea Horwath from Hamilton or Peter Tabuns from Toronto at the time of writing — and that six of their ten seats are in central cities, attests to that. And urban seats would seem like the the most promising places for them to make inroads into the Liberal majority. But although the NDP makes positive noises about city-specific issues, these issues really don’t seem to be a significant focus for either their membership or their caucus.
(On re-reading this post, it occured to me that there is some irony in the fact that the federal NDP under Jack Layton has been very vocal about city issues — even though the federal government has less power over cities than the provincial government. That provides some food for thought re. what I say above.)