By Daniel Leblanc and Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, March 25, 2012
(His) former staff and colleagues insist that Mr. Mulcair loves to put up a fight for the victims of government ineffectiveness and failure, whether in opposition or in power.
He was outraged when an overpass collapsed and killed five people in Quebec, seeking stiff consequences for the parties responsible for the disaster. He took on the Quebec Corporation of Physicians over its plans to allow a doctor to practise in Montreal despite a guilty plea to sexual misconduct.
In 2006, he started waging a public battle against his own government’s plan to promote a residential development in a provincial park, eventually leaving his cabinet position over the spat with Premier Jean Charest.
“He is very charming but if you get in the way of his principles, he can be a deadly killer. He’ll go for the jugular,” said Pierre Paradis, a veteran Liberal MNA in Quebec City.
Mr. Mulcair now vows to transform the NDP by ensuring that its core message is adapted to reflect regional realities, as the party already did in Quebec after he was first elected to the House in 2007, leading to last year’s Orange Wave. He is looking for growth in the Greater Toronto Area and provinces like Saskatchewan, now dominated by the ruling Conservatives.
One of his priorities is to rewrite the NDP’s constitution, including its preamble that talks of “democratic socialism,” boldly stating that his party’s traditional messaging can be repellent to non-traditional party supporters. His call showcases his political pragmatism, honed over almost two decades in the National Assembly and the House of Commons, which is certainly new in a party long wed to ideology.
His plans as leader are not so much to rewrite NDP policy as to improve the party’s organization and to tweak its messaging for the 21st century.
“We have to refresh our discourse, modernize our approach, and use a language that pleases our supporters, but also attracts people who share our vision,” said Mr. Mulcair, who won on the fourth ballot of the NDP leadership convention on Saturday.
To explain his plan, Mr. Mulcair repeatedly referred to his arrival in provincial politics in Quebec in the mid-1990s, when he spent two mandates in opposition before the provincial Liberals brought down the Parti Québécois government. He earned the nickname “Grizzly” in those days, as much for his beard as for his penchant for constant, trenchant attacks against his separatist foes. The courts once slapped him with a $95,000 fine for using a crude insult against a former PQ minister, but he never stopped going on the offensive and using his fierce debating skills in order to, as he said, “hit to hurt.”
Clearly, the presence of a "grizzly" conservative leader (Harper) and cabinet in the House of Commons has had an influence on NDP voters when choosing their new leader. Also, it is clear that Mr. Topp did not win, in large part because he does not have a seat in that 'august' body, having passed on an opportunity to submit his name for the nomination when the by-election was called in Toronto Danforth, Jack Layton's former seat. Having secured the endorsement of the party establishment, including former leader Ed Broadbent, who raised eyebrows from "coast to coast to coast" with his trashing of Mr. Mulcair prior to the ballots on Saturday, and while there are many examples of party leaders elected when they did not hold a seat in parliament, there seemed to be a strong thrust among delegates to "hit the ground running" with the fiery MP from Quebec, Mr. Mulcair.
Parsing the party's message out into regional "messages" might sound like a workable idea; however, there will be those who consider that approach to be a significant watering down of the traditional, national message of higher taxes from the rich and especially from the corporations, lower taxes and more social programs like pharmacare for the whole electorate. Such regional parsing might also sound as if Mr. Mulcair is imitating Mr. Harper who sends micromessages to various segments of the electorate in order to seduce them into supporting the conservatives.
Combative, energized and fiery, Mr. Mulcair will have established his primary public persona, on the national stage, within the first few "question periods" of the house sittings.And should those initial "reviews" prove positive, the NDP can and will look forward to two-plus years of political fighting against the Harper government, with a vigour and intensity that even Jack Layton would not likely have provided.
However, should those early reviews prove negative, the NDP will have a giant task of transforming their leader, a task that so far has proved outside the boundaries of political strategists. Mr. Mulcair may be precisely the man needed to bring Harper down. However, we are going to reserve judgement until we see just how his performance "fits" into the Canadian political landscape of the second decade of the 21st century.
Bob Rae and the Liberals will, naturally, be watching closely and setting their course, in response to both Harper and Mulcair, in the hope that, by 2015, they will have secured enough of the public support to regain their reputation and credibility, in the hope that by 2019, they might be returned to power.