Layton's new energy
Political notebook -
By Tait Simpson
It wasn't supposed to be this easy for Jack Layton.
On Saturday, Layton, a Toronto city councillor, scored an overwhelming first-ballot victory to become the new leader of the federal New Democratic Party.
Layton captured 53 per cent of the 44,707 ballots cast at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto, to distance himself from his nearest rival for the leadership, Member of Parliament Bill Blaikie, who received 24 per cent of the votes.
"There is a real enthusiasm for Layton," said Sham Kidane, an NDP convention delegate and social work student at King's College. "My vote went in favour of Layton, after talking to different delegates here at the convention."
Both delegates and party observers were genuinely surprised at the number of votes received by Layton on the first ballot of voting. Even staunch Layton supporters felt that they would have to move to at least a second ballot in order to get the required 50 per cent of all votes needed.
In the end, Layton's first-ballot victory had little to do with the performance of the six candidates at the convention itself. Of the 44,707 ballots that were cast, 40,463 were cast by party members, either online or by mail, in the days and weeks leading up to the convention.
Party members were taking advantage of the new system that allowed them to rank their choices for party leader prior to the convention. Their votes were added to the few thousand votes cast online or in person on Saturday.
By selecting Layton, the NDP members decided to move the party away from established parliamentarians in MPs Blaikie and Lorne Nystrom and embraced Layton's slogan of "new energy" for the party. The party will try to improve in the next federal election on the 14 seats it now holds in the House of Commons.
The handmade "Youth of Layton" signs made it clear that, as well as carrying the important organized labour votes, Layton had the support of the majority of student and youth voters at the convention.
"Layton's the best candidate for this party right now," said Isaac Cobourn, a second-year political science student at Carleton University in Ottawa.
The surprise candidate at the convention was Pierre Ducasse, a 30-year-old Quebecer whose speech received unanimous support as being the most persuasive. He received a standing ovation when his vote total of 3.7 per cent was announced.
"If this were a traditional convention [where all the voting takes place by delegates at the convention], Pierre Ducasse would have won. He was terrific," said Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union.
Layton will resign his seat on Toronto City Council this week in order to be in Ottawa with the NDP caucus. During a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Layton said he has no plans to ask any MPs to step aside and will wait until the next federal election to run for a seat in the House of Commons, most likely in the riding of Toronto-Danforth.