Thomas Mulcair is Mr. Angry

His aggressive style stands up to Harper. It could win him the NDP leadership race.

Mr. Angry Martin Patriquin

Photograph by Jenna Marie Wakani

With two weeks to go in the NDP leadership race, Thomas Mulcair has emerged as the widely acknowledged front-runner. Renowned for his short fuse—during a recent debate in Vancouver, one rival told Mulcair he had “the warrior part down”—the Montreal MP has divided opinions among New Democrats like no other candidate in the leadership battle. To his supporters, his combative approach is just what’s needed to take on the Harper Tories, while his critics worry about his temperament, and whether he’ll steer the party away from the principles established by Jack Layton.

To illustrate the kind of thing some might be worried about, and which others are drawn to, perhaps it’s best to go back to 2002. It was a good year for Mulcair, then the deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec. With his indignant stare and a knuckles-first style honed during his years as a lawyer, Mulcair’s constant haranguing of the government helped bring down PQ minister Gilles Baril for alleged influence peddling. Then less than a week after Baril resigned, a La Presse story alleged that Yves Duhaime, a lawyer and former Péquiste minister, had leveraged his friendship with Premier Bernard Landry to land a $180,000 lobbying contract. Duhaime denied everything during an appearance on a popular television show, but on the same show Mulcair accused him of influence peddling and brandished excerpts of the Criminal Code to support his case. Later, after the taping, Duhaime confronted Mulcair and accused him of defamation, to which, according to a Quebec Superior Court judgement, Mulcair responded: “I’m looking forward to seeing you in prison,” before using an extremely vulgar French term to describe him.

In 2005, Justice André Denis decided Mulcair’s televised indictment of Duhaime and his off-camera bon mot were indeed defamatory, to the tune of $95,000. The justice’s judgment was particularly damning. “We are of the impression that Mr. Duhaime was a simple contingency in the war [Mulcair] is waging against the government leader,” wrote Judge Denis. “Why wish to see him in prison? Why suggest that Mr. Duhaime is prostituting himself? Why deny things that were said? Why the reference to the Criminal Code?” Yet the incident was telling. Upbraided by a judge for his outburst, Mulcair’s political star only blazed brighter following his run-in with Duhaime. His reputation cemented, Mulcair became environment minister and deputy house leader in the newly formed Liberal government less than a year later.

A decade on, Mulcair is poised to become the prime-minister-in-waiting. But if Layton was known for his smile, Mulcair’s grin is often overshadowed by his growl. “What I see in Tom is he’s passionate and he’s principled and he’s not afraid to speak his mind,” says NDP MP Don Davies, who has endorsed Mulcair. And at this moment, maybe New Democrats are looking for a warrior. “I think that’s something that our party will benefit from,” says Davies, “a bit of a hard-nosed approach to take on Harper. Because I think Canadians want that as well.”

After a career in Quebec politics, Mulcair, who declined repeated requests to speak with Maclean’s for this story, arrived in Ottawa to much fanfare in 2007, after winning a by-election in the Liberal stronghold of Outremont. He was only the second New Democrat ever elected in Quebec, and after being named one of Layton’s deputy leaders, he soon showed himself to be an able, often fiery, performer in the House of Commons. Confident and fluently bilingual, he is perhaps the most polished of the candidates in the present leadership race. New Democrats worried about holding the party’s gains in Quebec can find solace in Mulcair’s experience and prominence in the province. And as a former Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec, Mulcair can claim to know what it is like to govern. “Tom Mulcair just checked off more boxes for me than anybody else,” says Davies. “I think he’s got that royal jelly, he’s got that prime ministerial bearing.”

His bearing is both part of his appeal and a point of debate. “When Tom smiles and laughs and tells a good joke, he can be quite a good beer-drinking partner,” says Ian Capstick, a former party official who served as press secretary to caucus when Mulcair arrived on Parliament Hill. “But when he is in ministerial attack dog mode, he’s a little Bairdesque,” he adds, referring to Tory pit bull John Baird.

Mulcair was first elected to public office in 1994 as a Liberal member of Quebec’s national assembly. Journalist Vincent Marissal recalls first encountering Mulcair a year or so later, during a friendly game of hockey, Liberals against press gallery scribes. Marissal was skating in front of his own net, sans puck, when Mulcair knocked him to the ice. “I thought he was going to throw down his gloves,” Marissal says. Instead, Mulcair hissed at the prostrate columnist: “Stop complaining, you big sissy, and get back on your skates.”

Throughout the campaign, Mulcair has often referred to his split with the Liberal Party of Quebec in 2007. As the popular narrative goes, Mulcair, then Quebec’s environment minister, refused to allow private development of Mont Orford, a provincial park located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region. Premier Jean Charest, none too pleased with his obstinacy, shuffled Mulcair out of the environment portfolio. “An attempt was made to shuffle Tom to another portfolio but he resigned on a question of principle,” reads Mulcair’s leadership bio. However, according to Quebec’s Environment Ministry, the department began studying the possibility of privatizing Mont Orford before Mulcair became minister, and continued to do so under his watch. “The Mont Orford file was there when he was there, and it progressed until he was removed from Environment,” says John Parisella, Charest’s former chief of staff who first recruited Mulcair into the Liberal Party of Quebec. “Then, all of a sudden, when he was out of the party, out of government, his opposition to Orford became more vocal.” Charest also claimed at the time he offered Mulcair the government services portfolio but that Mulcair resigned from cabinet rather than take a lesser position. Whatever the case, in February 2007, Mulcair announced that he would not seek re-election. By fall, he was the newly elected NDP MP for Outremont.

In his bid for the leadership, Mulcair enjoys the endorsement of 43 New Democrat MPs, including two former leadership contenders—Robert Chisholm and Romeo Saganash—who dropped out of the race. The vast majority of those endorsements have come from MPs elected just last year—support among current and former MPs who served between 2008 and 2011 is split—but several established figures, such as former MP Lorne Nystrom and former Manitoba premier and governor general Ed Schreyer, have also thrown their support behind him. Charles Taylor, the Montreal philosopher and academic and one of Layton’s most influential mentors, has also expressed his support for Mulcair’s candidacy.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, as Mulcair has pulled away from the pack, his feelings toward the party and where he wants to take it have come under closer scrutiny. In a meeting with the Toronto Star’s editorial board last month, he said the NDP “never renewed itself” and that the party must move past “some of the 1950s boilerplate” language around social democracy. Though he’s been accused of wishing to take the party to the political centre, he has insisted he wants to bring the centre to the party. Pressed by rival candidates to explain himself during last weekend’s NDP debate in Vancouver, Mulcair deferred to the path of modernization already followed by Layton. Even so, some remain uneasy. Jean Crowder, a veteran MP, says she was disappointed with Mulcair’s comments on the party. “I think over the last eight years Jack and the team did a pretty incredible job of getting us to the place where we are as the official Opposition,” said Crowder, who has endorsed Topp. “I think a lot of us have invested a lot of time and energy and passion in the party and to have it dismissed that way [in the newspaper article] was pretty disappointing.”

Beyond ephemeral questions about the NDP’s reason for being, Mulcair, as leader, would have to grow into the new role as the face of the party, becoming both a unifying, consensus-building presence within, and a strong, assertive figure on the public stage. Concerns about his aggressive style will have to be assuaged. Former Winnipeg North NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis wouldn’t comment on Mulcair’s temperament. “We had a good working relationship,” said the long-time Manitoba MP, who resigned in 2010. When asked why she is supporting Brian Topp, the former MP said, “Brian Topp can take on Harper in a style similar to Jack, that is not personal, ugly or distasteful.”

But the case for Mulcair is that however controversial his presence, he is also the most obviously ready to fill the chair directly opposite Stephen Harper in the House of Commons. “Leaders have to carve our their own way of doing things,” says Davies. “And I think Tom’s ability to be smart and articulate and direct and to present a clear alternative—and he’s absolutely got steely resolve to take us to government—I think is carrying on Jack’s tradition in a different sort of package.”


Thomas Mulcair is Mr. Angry

  1. If Mulcair is elected leader we shall see what kind of unifying force he is within the party. I suspect there will be bumpy days for the overly confident, fiery MP as he tries to force his will on the party.

    Mulcair knows that if the NDP wants to attain government they must be more central in their approach to various issues i.e. national defence, free trade etc. At least that his schtick thus far. However, Canadians will be very wary of anything the NDP proposes because as we know it is always in the details where the truth lies.

    At least he realizes the way the NDP talks to Canadians is routed in the 50’s boilerplate dialogue.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Mulcair’s opponents attack his proposal to modernize the party as if it’s a sin. To bring the NDP values to the national stage and actually become the government is his goal, and I support him in that fully.

  2. He looks and acts like a rabid chipmunk.

    • Everybody and anybody probably looks like a chipmunk to you, Alvin.

      • Snap!

    • Of the thousands of pictures they surely have on file, isn’t it strange that Macleans only manages to show these types of shots for Mr Mulcair. How bizarre…

  3. “….the principles established by Jack Layton…”  As in, say anything, do anything, that might get you votes..  If it means pandering to separatists one day – no problem.  If it means saying one thing in Ontario, then the complete opposite in BC in the same week – no problem.   As long as it might get a vote – the prinicpled Jack Layton.

  4. Two thoughts. First, Jack Layton – the last time I checked – did not “establish” the principles upon which our party is based. Second, Thomas Mulcair knows how to play hockey and would be able to challenge Harper to a game of shinny, which he would have to decline because he doesn’t know how to skate. Er, on ice, that is. That whole second thing is a game-changer. This is Canada, eh?

    • Good to know you’re basing your opinions on relevant factors.

      You know, like hockey.

      Wait… really?

      Boy oh boy, when that’s the best you got to say in favour… yikes!

      • I believe Mimi was keeping things light Phil. Nonetheless, to keep with the oh-so-patriotic metaphor, I prefer to have someone like Mulcair who can go into the corners, and come out with the puck his fair share of the time, when it comes to standing up to someone like Harper. Plus he’s got the credentials and hasn’t done a thing this whole campaign to disparage opponents, he has simply put himself out there as a candidate, has been honest about his vision, and is leaving it up to the voters to decide. I respect that a lot more than the desperate attacks from the others.

  5. After all the saints and dreamers, maybe a mad dog for a leader wouldn’t be such a bad idea. 

  6. I want effective opposition to Harper. If Mulcair can deliver that (with principle) then I am in favour of it. 

    • Just a reminder. This is a majority government and any legislation proposed by the government will pass. Mulcair or anybody else can stand and yell until their lungs burst but it will not change anything.

      There is no opposition. Just politicians wanting to hear themselves talk. The do not want to work to make legislation better they simply want to stall the process or try to delay the government from putting forward and passing their legislation.

      • Ever heard of the phrase her Majesty’s loyal opposition? Sometimes I think you have no clue at all how a Parliamentry democracy works.

        • I also disagree with “hollinm” as well.
          If the opposition party said nothing in debate, the Harper gov’t would simply roll over them, and in doing so would also be rolling over the general public.  By questioning the ethics of the Harperites, the NDP would be not better than Harper himself. By briing out the criminality of the robocalls to the public, the NDP and Liberals should have, if the public has been listening, put the Harper government on the defensive and possibly in a losing position in the next election.

          • Once again I would point out this is a majority government and yes the opposition can yell and scream but without offering alternative policies Canadians see it as typical whining by the opposition.

            If Canadians are not going to believe the opposition of accusing the government of being in contempt of parliament I don’t think they are going to get too excited about phone calls.

            Of course like many of the anti Harper crowd you are prepared to act as judge, jury and executioneer on robocalls without a shred of evidence. The polls today are saying after three weeks of trying to create a scandal along with their buddies in the media the opposition have not got very far. In fact the Libs got snared in it themselves. If you think Valeriotte had only one robocall then you are pretty naive.

            If you think faux scandals are going to defeat the Conservatives in the next election you are not very familiar with the political landscape today. Quebec is no longer relevant when it comes to forming a majority government. Harper has the West, much of Ontario and with the new seats will have even more seats.

          • Of course like many of the anti Harper crowd you are prepared to act as judge, jury and executioneer…

            you really don”t possess a shred of self irony do you? 

          • Not when it comes to you hate filled blind lefties. Very seldom do you crticize policy it is more about style, tactics, process, strategies that you focus on. Fortunately most Canadians are not interested in this kind of stuff.
            For six years now the left has done nothing to put forward the interest of the country. They are only looking for ways to malign the government. No wonder many Canadians are cynical and down on the political process.

          • The last 6 years has been about nothing but critiquing conservative policy, from crime bills to uneccessary GST cuts to overpriced aircraft. That’s what opposition parties do – look for holes and inconsistencies in govt policy; that is part of what forms their policy, what they seek to defend and demand evidence on before agreeing to change – it’s their job. It was absolutely the same whe Harper was in opposition – bet you weren’t bleating about maligning the liberals and lack of alternative policy then!

            The only reasonable point you have is lack of alternative policies, although it is not historically the oppositions job to spell out exactly what they would do differently, only, as they have been doing, pointing out dificiencies in govt policy and then offering sensible ammendments. Ammendments that have been invariably shunned by the Tories.
            Of course the opposition parties exaggerate stuff and push for advantage where they can – that’s politics. But we have arguably rarely,if ever, had a sitting govt so resistent to working with the opposition. It’s something only a blindly partisan follower would refuse to acknowledge at all. Every decent journo in the country knows this and says so, from Coyne to Wells. But as you frequently point out the press all hate Harper so what’s the diff?
            And as you never seem to learn what the public really thinks and what they are really interested in is as various as the people who bother to vote. Are people worried about the economy enough to put up with Harper’s sliminess? You bet! They extended the same courtesy to Mulroney for nine years, and we all know how that ended.
            What this all boils down to imo, is two diametrically opposed forces in parliament with very little real common ground [ if you want to simplify it to left and right]. The fact that they are constanly at loggerheads should surprise no one; that they all play politics to manuever for better positioning should surprise no one – it has always been so. Where my main disagreement with you is your refusal to admit that this is the case, both sides playing politcs to the max. Many of us only see what we want to see in life. You appear to only want to see the oppositions perceived faults and the govt’s duty to the country; they both have a duty and they both are competing to carry it out as they see it. If compromise is missing, as many of us think, it’s not all due to the opposition parties boundless ambition. The PM sets the tone and the tone is exactly as Harper seems to want it to be – chaotic and uber partisan. It’s his brand.

        • What are you talking about. I know the opposition is there to oppose but sitting on the sidelines without offering any alternatives is not very effective.

          The opposition believes it is their job to only oppose rather than propose as the late Jack Layton use to say. Never have I heard them say anything good about anything the government is proposing. They should try cooperating with the government rather than trying to stop everything that is proposed. 

          • Never offer any alternatives..try cooperating…oh my you are one funny dude.

            Sure the libs were too antagonistic – understandable after a dozen years of getting their own way all the time. But Layton tried to work with Harper – what did it get him other than a couple of concessions and a lot of name calling from blind partisans like you.
            The only kind of real cooperation ultimately acceptable to Harper is capitulation to his agenda.

          •  ” Never have I heard them say anything good about anything the government is proposing.”

            Actually, I can’t think of one good thing the Conservatives have proposed. or accomplished, other than repeatedly undermine parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

          •  Oh, what, and show standards?

          • Oh, you mean you don’t want them to act like CONservatives.

      • Harper just blinked on the NDP’s expansion of the EC’s powers.

    • How can a Harper clone be effective opposition?

  7. Random fun fact:  Mulcair’s “extremely vulgar French term” to describe Duhaime was:  
    “Crisse de vieille plotte sale péquiste!”

    Mulcair’s ferociousness may be an asset, but if he can’t control his temper, it’s also something that could bite him in the *cul*.

    • No kidding. Mulcair’s like a mad dog, foam and all.

      Do dippers really think that’s the type of behaviour that got them so many seats?

      Silly me, I thought that was the only thing that set them apart last election! LOL

    • Wow, with that mouth he his his mother?!

      None of those leaders but Dewar has the goods.

  8. Mulcair is a liberal in the Chretian sense. Out source, downsize, and privatize is his mantra. he sees a great opportunity to enrich himself here by hi-jacking a rudderless ndp party ala jack layton. Whom by the way was a small c conservative if one checks his voting record.

  9. Leopard’s can’t change their spots

  10. My feeling was that people took a chance with the NDP last election because Layton was the only guy who wasn’t engaging in the usual political nonsense, but instead offering a more positive message and appearing to be above the fray.

    Pretty much exactly the opposite of Mulcair.

    Mulcair moving the NDP to the center seems kind of funny to me too. I mean coming from a guy who accused the US of creating a grand conspiracy concerning the assasination of Bin Laden, it’s hard to see him anywhere near the center.

    Perhaps he meant he’d bring the NDP to the center of the universe, ie him? LOL

  11. So. With Harper and Mulcair in the same room any near-by chairs should run
    and hide ? 
    Anyone is allowed to not like Mulcair but all this is pretty weak gruel.

  12. If they really want to follow in Jack’s footsteps they should really go for Cullen.

  13. From what I can gather, he has refused (so far) to take up invitations from Power & Politics and The Current.  Is there something about the CBC & Mulcair??

    • I have no idea if there is bad history there, but I think it is more following Harper’s footsteps.  And Harper never gives interviews–certainly not with CBC!!

      • Harper does give interviews to Mansbridge. Harper doesn’t have much respect for the pack of wolves that occupy the parliamentary press gallery. So he ignores them and finds other ways to communicate with Canadians. Its obvious that the PPG think they are an opposition party rather than simply having the responsibility of reporting the news.

        • Your idea that the fourth estate is there simply to parrot the words of Mr. Harper is rather naive and more than a little dangerous.  It is the DUTY of the press to ask the hard questions and refuse to take glib answers and skulk back to their computers to write drivel. In fact, the current press in Ottawa has been too tame in dealing with the present government.

          • You are right. There are investigative reporters in the various media organizations. They should look for real scandal instead of trying to invent them.
            However, most of the reporters and columnists simply regurgitate what the opposition talking points are and call it news.
            When was the last time you saw a reporter ask a serious question at a press conference. Usually it is how many times did you beat your wife type of questions. Take Melewski of CBC. He has a chance in the campaign to ask Harper questions and he asks about kids being banned from the rally. If you think that is a serious question then your priorities are screwed.
            You note there are few questions about legislation. It is all about strategies, process and tactics.

        • Like hard nosed infomercials with fair minded senators like Mike Duffy

          • I don’t know what you are referring to but I have seen Harper give Mansbridge interviews all by himself. Imagine that.

          •  If you don’t know what Pickngrin is referring to, then perhaps you should put a sock in it for a while, and read the newspapers a little more carefully.


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  15. Like it matters who leads the NDP.
    Quebec was a protest vote, a one off and will not be repeated.
    Have ya seen the polls in Quebec?
    Fringe party.

  16. Jack Layton is dead. A great Man, but dead. Leave him be!  There was only ONE Jack Layton and he is gone. Let Him rest in Peace.. It’s a new time and Time for a new leader without disinterring bodies!

  17. i am seriously disappointed with this” in fighting “and I KNOW that Thomas Mulcair and his supporters are NOT responsible for it.

    I joined the NDP for the TEAM spirit I saw, and now I am angry with some people.You are NOT playing fair.

  18. There once was a man named Mulcair,
    Who had a most terrible glare.
    A Dipper of note,
    He might win the vote,
    And unlike the last, he’s got hair!

    • There once was a man named Harper
      a shrewd, bellicose carny barker
      When put in the position 
      of almost no Opposition
      Canadians said “yes, he’s the sharper”

  19. He never once displayed ANGER during the debates

    He has huge support from MPs and other ex MPs and many prominent persons
    O’Leary in ST Johns says he is an EXCELLENT communicator

  20. Horn fight between cows… nothing more.
    NDP stop to be a working class political party long time ago -under Broadbend leadership.
    There is but one party on the left that really cares for the wellbeing of the workers, and that’s the Communist Party of Canada. All others that called themselves “leftists” are nothing but a bunch of oportunists that only want (naively) “humanising capitalism”… an oxymoron of course.
    Social democrats are the worst infection in the strugle for changes. They are but retrograds ans oportunists wainting for a good offer for their souls.

  21. Tom will be the best for the NDP and Canada

  22. Congratulations to Aaron Wherry and Martin Patriquin for pointing out 2 things any journalist could have figured out if he or she had enough energy to read more than the candidate’s biography: Mulcair is an opponent so mean-spirited he was successfuly sued for defamation (with punitive damages awarded against him) and the privatization of Mount-Orford occurred on his watch as Environment Minister without a word of protest till it was too late and he had lost his cabinet post. The fact that this is news, when it all happened more than half a decade ago, does not reflect very well on the Ottawa press corp.

  23. I heard a rumour Tom Mulcair is heavy drinker, does anybody know?

    • no he doesn’t drink excessively. Oh why Nadine would you try to smear him over a year after this article was posted?
      It’s so petty and mean-spirited.

  24. The Incredible Mulk