© Guardian photo
Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, left, walks past Province House in Charlottetown with federal executive Joe Byrne in a Guardian file shot..
With Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair now carrying the torch of the national New Democratic Party, Islanders may see a boost in the party's presence on P.E.I.
An Island contingent of about 20 card-carrying NDP members travelled to the national party's leadership convention this weekend in Toronto, ON. in addition to the many other P.E.I. members who voted online or via mail.
The event became a marathon stretching from Friday into Saturday night. In the end, widely-predicted frontrunner Mulcair went head-to-head with longtime party strategist Brian Topp, with Mulcair sealing the leadership by garnering 57.2 per cent of the fourth and final vote.
P.E.I. NDP Youth co-chair Chris van Ouwerkerk was in the sea of Mulcair supporters when the final result was announced. While the MP, who represents the Outremont, Que. riding, was virtually a guaranteed win by the fourth round, van Ouwerkerk said there was a lot of nervous tension in the minutes leading up to the final result.
That tension quickly turned into a celebration, he said.
"The place erupted," said van Ouwerkerk, who described hundreds of supporters jumping up and down in victory. "I had never been part of something this big with this much energy.
"The feeling in the room was just hope and happiness."
Some high-profile Island members of the NDP had already given Mulcair their stamp of approval, including federal executive member Joe Byrne and Dr. Herb Dickieson, the only New Democrat ever elected to the P.E.I. legislature.
Both were also at the convention, with Byrne describing Mulcair's victory speech as excellent.
"He hit it out of the park," said Byrne. "It was said whenever he was in P.E.I. in December and he reiterated it again tonight (Saturday). We have to look at getting organized and the resources we need to get our message out to unite all Canadians."
The NDP message may soon become a lot louder on P.E.I., with one of Mulcair's promises being to create a $3.38 million fund to provide every electoral riding with $10,000 to take on the Conservatives in the 2015 federal election.
Van Ouwerkerk said funds like that could make a huge difference to Island candidates.
"On P.E.I., that is pretty much $10,000 more than what we would have had," he said. "It sets up a whole lot of chances for us.
But it is still up to us to take advantage of those chances."
During his visit to P.E.I. in December, Mulcair had also pledged to invest resources and dollars into the province's NDP campaigns if his leadership bid was successful. He also said he believes the NDP could become the party of choice for Islanders, despite the traditional two-party system.
P.E.I. party leader James Rodd extended his congratulations to Mulcair after the convention and said he looked forward to working together during the rest of his tenure.
He also invited Mulcair to the annual provincial convention on May 25 and 26 in Charlottetown.
"Our springtime provincial convention will be held in the spirit of love, hope and optimism... and if he is able to attend, we will welcome Thomas in this spirit and in solidarity," said Rodd.
The leadership convention, which saw six candidates face off, didn't go quite as smoothly as planned.
A series of cyber attacks backed up voting and caused delays throughout the day, most notably during the second ballot Saturday morning.
Despite some obvious frustrations, everyone at the convention was understanding of the problems, said van Ouwerkerk.
"There wasn't anyone acting out," he said.
Byrne added that by the third and fourth ballots, voting had started going much more smoothly.
He added that the event's atmosphere was "amazing" and noted that Friday night served largely as a tribute to the late party leader Jack Layton, who died of cancer in August, and the "Layton legacy" that he left behind.
Indeed, Layton was the face of the party when it reached its highest popularity ever during the "orange wave" in 2011 and formed the official Opposition for the first time in history.
Taking over Layton's former post will be far from a walk in the park for Mulcair and as Byrne said, it's a change that isn't going to happen overnight.
"It's going to take a while for him to make the transition but he's already getting down to work," said Byrne.
Mulcair found himself heading his first NDP caucus meeting Sunday before he jumps into business of the house Monday.
His new leadership also comes just before the Stephen Harper Conservatives bring down their first budget as a majority government this Thursday.