Naturally, Jack Layton's leave of absence has raised plenty of speculation as to what will happen on Canada's opposition benches over the summer (and perhaps beyond). But Tim Powers hints at what may be the most interesting question to watch in the months to come.
Most of the time when a political party ends up under interim leadership, it's because events have conspired to rob it of any ability to develop or execute a long-term plan. And indeed, the Libs are in that situation for the third time in just a few years.
Like Bill Graham and Stephane Dion (post-2008 election) before him, Bob Rae's ability to substantially set his party's direction is significantly limited by the expectation that he'll hand the reins to a new leader in the relatively near future. In effect, Rae can't rely on the past planning of leaders who have been unceremoniously turfed - but nor can he afford to take any substantial risks or strong positions, lest he be seen as limiting the choices the party may want to make in the next couple of years. Which means that Rae - though perceived as a stronger politician than most interim leaders - is stuck acting more as a caretaker than a planner and decision-maker.
In contrast, there's no reason to think there's any particular desire within the NDP to substantially change course at a time the strongest leader in Canadian politics is sidelined temporarily. And so Nycole Turmel's role as the NDP's interim leader figures to be primarily to execute the plan that's been developed by Jack Layton and a strong team of advisers over a period of nearly a decade.
Which makes for a rather neat opportunity to test the comparative effects of two traits which are normally difficult to separate. If the Libs manage to make up ground on the NDP, that will speak to the importance of a well-recognized leader with extensive political experience. Or if the NDP holds its own, then we should be able to conclude that a strong plan and vision for a party's future ultimately mean more than the face of a single leader. And both parties will want to pay close attention to the results as they determine how to position themselves for the next few years.
[Edit: fixed wording.]