There are many take-away's from the excellent interview conducted by John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in the weekend edition of the paper.
First, Mulcair is no fly-weight rock star. He is a seasoned veteran of political debate, honed over years of growing up as second-eldest of ten children, slinging roof tar to earn money to get through law school, marrying and raising a family with a psychologist wife who works mainly with poor clients in Montreal.
Second, he is ready to talk about whatever honest question is posed, including his proposal of a
long-term balanced energy development plan. Here is a quote from the transcript of the interview:
I think we have a very balanced, nuanced approach. We’re starting from the point where we recognize that energy is the motor of the Canadian economy. We’re also saying we have different development models we can look at. If we look at a model like Norway, we can do really well for the next 20 years in developing the technology sector, green renewables. Between now and 2020, $3-trillion will be spent on green, renewable technologies. We’re not even there. We’re not even on the map. Norway’s there, Germany’s there. We’re not even players. We’re missing a massive opportunity to leverage some of what we’ve got into investments. So that’s what we’re talking about. We’d take the cap-and-trade system [which would cap emissions for industrial users, create a carbon market and generate revenues for government] and we’d leverage that – we’ll turn it into investments in those areas. That’s sustainable development. That’s long-term development.
Third, Mulcair is, by his wife's acknowledgement, gaining in public recognition when passing through airports, following his performance in the House of Commons interrogating the Prime Minister on the Senate scandal. And name recognition in Canada, like any kind of public support and approval comes sparingly, even grudgingly, from the most tight-fisted and parsimonious people on the planet, save and except the Scots. It took Jack Layton, one of the most articulate, personable and appealing politicians in recent Canadian history nearly a decade of hard work to bring the NDP to the position of Official Opposition and his legacy is not lost on Mulcair. Yet name recognition is only a small and somewhat superficial component of the necessary ingredients to being offered the keys to 24 Sussex.
Fourth, in acknowledging his hard-nosed and sometimes angry reputation, Mulcair points to his learning curve of acquiring more options to deal with various situations. Determination can and will carry only so far; it has to be supplemented with variety of approaches in order to achieve the long-term objectives that face any political leader. And determination is not merely a quality reserved for the political debates. Leaving a committee meeting early, while serving in the Quebec legislature, in order to attend a family event in which one of his children was engaged, bearing the brunt of PQ derision for the "family-first decision" is the kind of balanced "priority setting" that the country could live with very comfortably and for a considerable time.
The "family priority" was also invoked to illustrate another subtle but significant point in his biography. It was Claude Ryan, Mulcair's mentor, who urged him to enter politics before he and his wife considered it timely, given the ages of his children at that time. Ryan, the former editor of Le Devoir, and also himself Leader of the Liberal Party in Quebec, was an astute observer of the Canadian political landscape, and frequently clashed with the Liberal establishment of the time. He never lost his gravitas, his integrity nor his courage. Mulcair seems to be the "acorn that fell close to that tree" (in political terms!).
What really jumps out, although somewhat unobtrusively, from reading the interview transcript, is that this man is one of us, an ordinary guy who has fought long and hard for political transformation, without the support of a family name, a family inheritance nor the confluence of affluence that seems to cluster around both Harper and Trudeau. He is not the same kind of street-fighter that lived in 24 Sussex when Chretien was prime minister, nor when Mulroney lived there. He is clearly not the debonaire bachelor-PM that began the "Trudeau-era". Nor is he the sweet-and-handsome inheritor of the Trudeau name and reputation.
Canada is an extremely complicated and diverse, yet hard-working and tough country, with strong and somewhat combative competing interests. Some of those legitimate and competing interests have been shoved to the sidelines over the last two decades of Lib-Con governments. One of those legitimate yet virtually abandoned interests is the environmental movement. Mulcair declares that he hopes his first act as Prime Minister will be to attend the climate conference in Paris that is scheduled to meet shortly after the 2015 election. Now that is a commitment that can only happen if and when he gets the majority or even the minority opportunity to become Prime Minister. And given Canadian caution and resistance to change, Canadians are unlikely to offer anyone from the NDP a majority, unless there is a sea-change of public opinion that demands more rapid change than history has so far demonstrated nationally.
In Quebec in particular, the NDP hold on many constituencies is tenuous at best, having elected neophytes with no previous experience, no name recognition and some potential turbulence in their attempt to seek re-election. Schooling those candidates in the rough-and-tumble of campaigns in which there might not be a provincial sweep that gets an "orange tide" back to Ottawa could prove difficult, if not insurmountable for Mulcair's NDP.
Nevertheless, if the country ever needed a major shift in priorities, on the international stage, and more significantly even on the social policy front, that change is needed in 2015. Canadians want and need national leadership of which they can and will be proud, with a Prime Minister whose trust and integrity they can count on and a political party whose commitment is to all the people of the country, including First Nations, the unemployed, the indigent, the challenged and the lunch-box workers whose jobs are being threatened daily, weekly and monthly. And if ever there was a mountain of evidence that the "big-shots" in both Liberal and Conservative parties could care less about the ordinary people (not the slick rendition of that concept as the "middle class") it grows exponentially around us.
A Mulcair victory in 2015 would be both refreshing and challenging, in that it would take the lid off many good and workable ideas that could and would bring fresh approaches based on real economic, and real applications of things that have already been proven to work in other mature, modest and sensible countries such as our Scandinavian counterparts. Mulcair has studied some of those working models, and has found ways that could bring them into the Canadian landscape. We welcome new approaches based not on hollow rhetoric but on tested and proven information. And only with Mulcair's NDP will Canadians be able to grasp that opportunity.
Let's seize it in confidence and in hope and in a new spirit of working together!