I came. I saw. I listened. And what I listened to was a lot of what MP Nathan Cullen characterized as "violent agreement".
The packed crowd (people had to be turned away) listened to candidates who agree, violently, on what government should do. Grow the economy sustainably, help the downtrodden, ensure equality, and so on.
The disagreements, with one exception, were subtle. They were either about political strategy, or about implementation. Everyone may agree on what to do, everyone does not agree on how to do it. But with only a minute or 30 seconds to answer each question you had to listen sharply to hear the differences.
With that one exception. Cullen proposed open primaries for all non Conservative parties with only the winning candidate running, so that there would be one candidate in each riding to oppose the Conservatives.
The hissing was immediate. A heartbeat later, the clapping began. Because the NDP wants to be government, wants it bad. They've been in the wilderness for too long, and they sure don't trust the Liberals to do the right things. But NDP supporters also understand that Harper is a transformational Prime Minister--in the worst way possible. He is making a Canada which is less equal, less prosperous and far, far meaner. He is undermining medicare, undermining small farms and plans to center Canada's economy around resource extraction of the kind which leaves behind only a legacy of ruin. (Every resource boom ends. Every single one.) So defeating Harper is important.
That aside, there was so much agreement that I began doing what I prefer not to do in American politics: I started considering electability.
There were only three candidates on that stage, in my opinion, who had the raw charisma and polished speaking skills necessary to lead the NDP to victory. Thomas Mulcair, Nathan Cullen and Peggy Nash. The NDP cannot afford a leader who is not charismatic, and the others simply don't have the ability to hold attention. Nash and Mulcair are bilingual, Cullen's french is weaker, but getting better.
Below I'm going to go through my observations on all eight, starting with the three I feel have the charisma for the job.