On the first anniversary of Tom Mulcair’s election as leader of the New Democratic Party, the question is whether he has exceeded expectations. It’s a bit like companies putting out year-end numbers. Did he beat the street? What’s his visibility going forward? And what new products is he offering to increase his market share?
Mulcair’s record as CEO of Team Orange is positive to mixed.
Yes, he has exceeded expectations, especially considering that he was replacing Jack Layton, who did for the NDP what Steve Jobs did for Apple. It’s a pretty tough act to follow.
Following Layton’s death in August 2011, and the weak interim leadership of Nycole Turmel in the House, the NDP decided it needed an experienced parliamentarian.
With 13 years in the Quebec legislature and five more in the House of Commons, Mulcair fit the job description down to the ground.
First, he moved quickly to impose impressive discipline on the NDP caucus. And you thought Stephen Harper was a control freak.
Mulcair prevented his Quebec MPs from taking sides in Quebec’s student unrest last spring, when some of them had just written final exams themselves. In last summer’s Quebec election, not one NDP member from Quebec publicly endorsed either the Parti Québécois or Québec solidaire. When it’s considered that several of Mulcair’s young Quebec members had previously written cheques to QS, that’s quite an achievement. This was a real test for Mulcair; he needed to impose top-down discipline from the Opposition leader’s office, and he did.
In question period, Mulcair is an effective leadoff hitter, but his developing problem is that he’s also trying to bat cleanup. On some days, he takes the entire opening round of questions. He needs to give his front benchers more air time. He also needs to work on his sense of humour. He still gives the impression of being a pit bull.
In terms of policy offerings, Mulcair’s leadership is a work in progress.
His visit to Washington this month was a disaster. The international stage is different from the floor of the House — not an appropriate place to trash-talk the government of Canada. Bad-mouthing the Keystone XL project, which incidentally involves thousands of union jobs on both sides of the border, was a bad idea.
But Mulcair’s worst play was to suggest that 50 per cent plus one was enough in a Quebec referendum, when the Clarity Act requires a clear answer to a clear question. He opened a Pandora’s box, for no reason.
What Mulcair is missing is a story, a narrative, so that voters can get to know him better. It comes down to this: Who is this guy, and where does he want to take the country?
Canadians don’t know that he’s the oldest of 10 children, of a francophone mother named Jeanne Hurtubise and an Irish father named Harry Mulcair. More than the big brother, at some points he would have been a stand-in for his parents. This is a story all parents would find compelling.
Mulcair’s personal journey, from McGill Law to the National Assembly, is one of an ambitious achiever. But he clearly hasn’t forgotten where he came from. On the day of his election as NDP leader, he wore his McGill tie to the convention. “It’s my lucky tie.”
Mulcair took heat last year, including from Harper, for carrying a French as well as Canadian passport. The answer is that his wife, Catherine Pinhas, was born in France to Jewish immigrants from Turkey. And that her parents, Sephardic Jews, were Holocaust survivors. Next question.
And even on the 50-plus-one dust-up, Mulcair has a strong personal narrative. He has no lessons to take from anyone in opposing separatism, having fought for a Canadian Quebec in the trenches of two referendums. In the second one in 1995, in his riding of Chomedey, the other side tried to prevent thousands of No votes from being counted.
But it’s up to him to lay down those markers, to tell those stories. In order for the voters to trust him, they first need to know him.
© Copyright 2013