Tom Mulcair, prime minister in waiting?

Author:Milner, Henry

The selection of Thomas Mulcair as Leader of the NDP, and thus Opposition Leader, was not unexpected--yet in a number of ways proved to be quite original. Rather than selecting a charter member of the NDP family, the party reached out to a recent convert. And of course, for the first time, it chose a Quebecer. These two choices are not unrelated, we need remind ourselves, since there is no such animal as an experienced, publicly known Quebec politician who has limited his or her involvement to the NDP. The closest to fit the description is Mulcair's main opponent, Brian Topp, who like Mulcair grew up bilingual in Montreal. But Topp's NDP involvement was behind the scenes and largely outside Quebec.

Another unusual aspect of Mulcair's leadership campaign was his largely ignoring the media, refusing the usual round of CBC interviews in favour of meeting party members directly. When he was finally interviewed on national television after being chosen in Toronto on the fourth ballot, many were surprised, as well as impressed, by his ease and articulateness in both languages. Indeed, he was much better in the interviews than in his short victory speech at the convention. Also original was the fact that he did a French-language interview on RDI before going to the CBC.

Mulcair's ability to convince lifelong social democrats that he was their man, without pretending to be one of them, as well as the positive reception that greeted his victory in Quebec where the NDP has most of its seats, confirms the fact that he is the NDP politician best poised to keep the party in second place and thus the official opposition after the next election. A clear majority of Quebecers--unlike Canadians outside Quebec--see the values of the Conservatives as different from those of their society. Had another NDP leader been chosen, more Quebecers would have seen the Bloc Quebecois as the party best able to articulate this difference, and the Bloc would have had a better chance of regaining seats from the NDP.

But what about defeating the Conservatives? During the leadership campaign, only Nathan Cullen was prepared to state explicitly that to do so would require a strategic alliance with the Liberals. Cullen's unexpectedly strong showing reflects an understanding on the part of many more NDPers than might have been expected that this is indeed the case.

Rather strangely, in his post-campaign interview Mulcair dismissed such an alliance as impossible under Elections...

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