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Hard labour

HAVING laid their politically adept chief to rest, the federal NDP now has to face up to some tough realities.

HAVING laid their politically adept chief to rest, the federal NDP now has to face up to some tough realities.

While New Democrats have unanimously declared that the race to replace Jack Layton must not be a divisive one, some cracks are already showing. One of the obvious contenders for the top job, Thomas Mulcair, wants the party to do away with its practice of reserving a bloc of leadership votes for affiliated unions. A potential rival of his, Brian Topp - himself a union man - says such a move is an affront to the NDP's historic ties to labour.

Tradition is important, but it's not everything. Traditionally, for example, the NDP is a third-party afterthought. These are new times for the party, and it will need new approaches to navigate them.

The role of labour in the party will not be going away; unions still provide support in many forms even after their financial donations were banned in 2006. But cementing their ability to influence the choice of the party's leader is fundamentally undemocratic. It also confirms the view held by many Canadians that the New Democrats are anti-business, and thus cannot be trusted with the nation's economy. Lastly, turn the coin over and imagine the NDP finger-pointing if the Conservatives reserved leadership votes for industry and business associations.

A more even-handed way of conducting itself is absolutely necessary if the NDP truly wishes to move from being a protest party to a genuine government-in-waiting.

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