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Editorial: The NDP's Atlantic detour

As federal NDP delegates begin voting this week to select a new national leader, many Atlantic-Canadians must wonder what all the fuss is about. Apart from a debate in St. John’s in early June, leadership hopefuls have largely bypassed this region.

Visits, rallies or delegate information events have been extremely rare. The public attention on who succeeds Tom Mulcair is low on the region’s political radar.

The final four candidates seem obsessed with Quebec — that without that province, the NDP can never form a national government. The 32 seats in Atlantic Canada appear unimportant. It’s all a little strange considering the party unceremoniously dumped its favourite Quebec son and the odds of regaining a Quebec beachhead from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are slim.

Under Jack Layton, the NDP grabbed a historic high 54 seats in Quebec in May 2011 to form the official Opposition, but later that year the leader of the “Orange Crush” died.

Mulcair was effective as the new Opposition leader and seemed poised to win the 2015 general election. But his gamble to moderate NDP policies backfired, and that stinging defeat cost him his job during a party leadership review the following spring. Usually it’s the Liberals who devour their defeated leaders.

One of the key issues raised in St. John’s dealt with pipelines. The Energy East project didn’t get much support because, apart from the Alberta wing, the party is opposed to them. That stand won’t earn much support in parts of Atlantic Canada, where Energy East is needed to secure Canadian oil for the Irving refinery in Saint John, provide much-needed construction jobs and stimulate regional economic activity.

It is unfortunate that no Atlantic candidate came forward to contest the NDP leadership, but the Conservative race this spring garnered lots of interest even though none of the 13 candidates were from this region. Tories were busy crisscrossing Atlantic Canada, but not so the NDP.

It is odd that the NDP would take such a disinterest here. Apart from P.E.I., Atlantic Canada has generally been kind to the NDP. Darrell Dexter was a recent premier of Nova Scotia. Alexa McDonough was an effective national leader. MPs from Nova Scotia have represented the province well — such as Peter Stoffer and Megan Leslie from Metro Halifax and Peter Mancini from Cape Breton. Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have sent strong NDP members to Parliament.

After nine uneventful, cross-Canada leadership debates over the spring and summer, the NDP campaign ended Sunday with an all-candidates’ showcase in Hamilton. There the gloves finally came off, with attacks on the perceived front-runner because Jagmeet Singh doesn’t have a seat in the Commons and wears an obvious religious symbol — a turban. Even Mulcair intervened, opining that his successor should “ideally” have a seat in Parliament.

When the first — and potentially last — round of voting is released Oct. 1, not many residents in this region will be interested.

Atlantic Canada is sitting this one out.

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