Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

Edmonton-Centre NDP candidate Lewis Cardinal and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Edmonton on March 26, 2014.

More than 500 people packed into the lobby of the Winspear Centre yesterday to watch the New Democratic Party of Canada officially nominate Edmonton-Centre‘s Lewis Cardinal as the first candidate for 2015 federal election. The selection of Edmonton-Centre as the NDP’s first nomination demonstrates that party’s desire to turn Edmonton into a battle ground in the next election.

Jack Layton NDP Edmonton

Jack Layton at a NDP rally in Edmonton during the 2008 federal election.

After Mr. Cardinal was nominated, NDP leader Thomas Muclair took to the stage to congratulate the new candidate.

During his speech, I could not help but reflect on the differences between Mr. Mulcair and former leader Jack Layton, who spoke to a raucous crowd in the same room during the 2008 federal election.

I remember being impressed with Mr. Layton’s ability to raise the level of energy in the room just with his presence. He oozed style, was charismatic and felt like a made-for-TV leader. His energy was contagious, but I could not help but question whether he had enough substance behind that style.  I always had a difficult time picturing Mr. Layton as the next Prime Minister of Canada.

This week, Mr. Mulcair’s speech to the crowd at the Winspear was more business than partisan play. Unlike Mr. Layton’s high-energy speech in 2008, Mr. Mulcair’s speech focused on the policy and values that differentiates his party from the Conservatives and Liberals. The partisans cheered, but he did not generate the same type of excitement in the room that his predecessor was able to.

Mr. Mulcair’s speech reminded me of what Stephen Harper sounded like before the Conservatives formed government in Ottawa eight years ago. What he delivered was a perfectly acceptable grounded speech. Mr. Mulcair sounded like he could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Side note: A great concert hall and an excellent venue, the Winspear Centre is named for philanthropist Francis Winspear, who, along with Preston Manning,  helped found of the Reform Party of Canada in 1987.