The case for keeping Tom Mulcair

Many NDP insiders want Mulcair to step aside. But is there anyone to replace him?

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is applauded by NDP members of parliament after responding to the government's speech from the throne in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. Adrian Wyld/CP

(Adrian Wyld/CP)

The case for keeping Tom Mulcair as NDP leader is simple.

The NDP has risen from 19 seats in the 2004 election to 29 in 2006, 37 in 2008, and 44 in the 2015 election last October. I cheated a bit there by taking out the 103-seat breakthrough of 2011, but maybe I should leave it out, as a fluke. The 2011 surprise aside, the party’s rise looks steady and perhaps even inexorable.

The New Democrats achieved much of that result by sticking with a leader even after disappointments. Jack Layton tasted disappointing results three times before 2011. Each time his party had hoped for a much greater breakthrough than what it got. If he had walked away earlier, he would simply have left another rookie leader to start over again. In Canadian politics, incumbency is usually a greater virtue than novelty. (You will say: But what about Justin Trudeau? I reply: A guy named Trudeau is a poor argument for the winning power of novelty.)

The NDP does not, today, have an obvious leader-in-waiting who could replace Mulcair. The party’s largest provincial caucus is still in Quebec: which successor from outside the province could speak to those voters? Its deepest traditions of electoral success lie outside Quebec: Which Quebecer could tap into those wellsprings?

So: an electoral result that’s solidly in line with three of Jack Layton’s four tallies. A leader who has (surely) (I’m guessing here) (but surely) (well, I mean, you’d think) learned from defeat and can apply those lessons. A party that’s hard to govern without perfect command of two official languages, and no active campaign to find that replacement leader.

That’s the case for keeping Mulcair. I’ve made it before, in pieces here and there. The case for replacing him is the one I keep hearing from New Democrats. Unlike me, they’ll get a vote when the party decides in April whether to call a leadership convention.

Related: Thomas Mulcair on being ready to spar in 2016—including for his job

“There’s sort of this hope that he does the right thing,” one prominent New Democrat told me when I called to ask about Mulcair’s future. “Right thing,” in this context, means that Mulcair would stand down as leader before April and call for members to elect a new leader at their next opportunity.

“Membership is pissed,” another New Democrat wrote me in an email.

A third—and I know I’m not giving you any names; that was the condition for each of my interlocutors to speak freely—admitted to fearing the party will passively accept Mulcair as leader because “New Democrats don’t like to win.”

Back to my first anonymous source. “There are a few angry, angry, angry people,” this person said, “who I would say are concentrated among the MPs. They’re pinning everything on Mulcair.” This person thinks it’s harsh to blame Mulcair entirely for the loss of 51 seats last October. Justin Trudeau also had something to do with it.

“But I would say there’s a growing consensus that Mulcair needs to step aside,” this person continued. “But there’s no organizing or campaigning going on.”

The constitutionally mandated leadership review after an election is a simple matter. Delegates to a national convention vote on whether there should be a new leadership convention. In any party, dissatisfaction with the leader is unlikely to crystallize unless there’s a present and available alternative. As of this week the NDP has none. There’s some talk about Alexandre Boulerice, the svelte and bearded MP for Montreal’s Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie riding. He has zero name recognition outside Quebec, and something very close to zero inside. But he is a veritable Kardashian compared to another name put to me: Ryan Meili, an amicable and bearded physician from Saskatoon, who twice finished in second place behind other candidates for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership. So yes, I’m aware that his power base is in Saskatchewan and that he’s never won there. Also I’m aware that everyone I’ve mentioned so far has beards. You have something against beards? Meanwhile, neither of these two is even campaigning; they are somebody else’s idea of potential Mulcair replacements.

It would be nice if no replacement were needed. With three months to secure his job, Mulcair should be making friends as fast as he can. How’s that going? “He’s not romancing anyone, that’s for sure,” my chattiest source said. “The most natural constituency is his caucus. And he’s being a dick [to them].” How so? “We had a big caucus after 2011, and the organization was pretty hierarchical. Now it’s far smaller, but he’s still doing that hierarchical thing. Not asking for opinions. Still having that small circle around him. Not treating you like you matter.”

Maybe Mulcair will launch his charm offensive when the House returns at the end of January. Maybe he has no need to charm anyone. With no credible replacement, his opponents may well fold their tents. That’s not an ideal campaign slogan for 2019, but you make do with what you’ve got.


The case for keeping Tom Mulcair

  1. Okay. I stopped at “many NDP insiders”. There he goes again.

  2. I think Gary Doer is between jobs right now. Just saying.

  3. Most of the reasons listed support the thesis for keeping Mr. Mulcair. One, the treatment (key word hierarchical) of his caucus identifies Mr. Mulcair, a former Liberal, as being Mr. Harper lite (another former Liberal). We do not need another micromanager, ethically challenged, “I make the rules” Prime Minister.

    • It amazes me how many people aren’t informed enough yet make comments like this – and worse, vote (while uninformed). In Quebec, provincial politics is separated more along the lines of federalist vs separatist rather than left vs right. There is no Quebec NDP wing. The Quebec Liberal Party is also not tied to the federal Liberal Party. They are not one and the same (much like the BC Liberals, and unlike Ontario Liberals who don’t hide the network connection). Mulcair has been a member of the NDP since 1974. I do believe he should go, and certain things were done wrong in the campaign. That being said… the NDP WERE a viable choice during the campaign – the polls showed that. They just messed up the momentum. Mulcair was fantastic in opposition and part of the reason why Harper did not have it easy during his majority. The Liberals did nothing, stayed in the corner… the NDP stood up and challenged Harper’s Conservatives. In my opinion, the Liberals did not deserve their majority. Minority, at best.

    • They should pick a leader based on the type of campaign they want to run, like the Liberals did with Trudeau. They need a young, savvy, likable leader with the same policy smarts as Tom. I’m not sure how Trudeau could compete with someone as likable as him, but twice as smart.

  4. It’s pretty bad when you have to re-gift your party leader over and over and over, whatever way you dice it, you will still come out with the same product, a politician who has a frame around his neck he will never remove, it comes off as fake and not authentic. Time for the NDP to start looking in the mirror and elect a new leader, someone young a charismatic leader, they still need to compete with the cons if they want to get at the Grits, if not, the NDP will become irrelevant in time for the next election, their starting to become irrelevant now.

  5. The NDP is looking increasingly irrelevant. For one, they are, for the most part, siding with the Liberals these days – often, in fact, defending them instead of acting as a major opposition party. When they do differ, it is for the lunacy positions the NDP has always been known for and makes them unpalatable for most of the electorate.
    And Mulcair really blew it when he said, and is still saying, that their number one priority was to ‘get rid of Stephen Harper’. The number one priority of a Federal party leader is to win an election and become Prime Minister. Obviously, he didn’t think we could, or will, ever.

    • I agree about the number one priority for leaders except possibly in this case. Harper was SO bad for Canada and we needed to get rid of him for a multitude of reasons, I will cut Muclair some slack for his comment.

    • What are you talking about? “Liberal” does not immediately align with “progressive” or “left”. Just look at Liberal insiders, and the party itself during the ’90s. Trudeau has, no doubt, rejuvenated the party for sure. But they did so on an NDP-left platform. They seemingly outflanked the NDP on the left… that is why they won. I spoke to some people who literally believed the NDP were the “moderate” choice between “radical” Trudeau, and “evil” Harper. And where do the NDP “often defend” the Liberal party? They spent the past four years challenging Harper while the Liberals didn’t do anything significant. The reason the Liberals fell in the first place was because they were hated just as Harper came to be hated… the budget that collapsed them included tax breaks for wealthy corporations that Jack Layton wanted to go towards childcare, and Martin refused. Liberals and Conservatives are not much different from each other in substance (different in appearance, and that’s why they won. This was an “anti-HARPER” election)… this “leftist” approach by the Liberal party hasn’t been seen since the days of Pearson and Trudeau, during which some of their governments were minority and supported by the NDP. Which is why we have many of the social programs we now cherish as normal and “Canadian”. The NDP are not irrelevant. They screwed up, and it will take time to rebuild, but if electoral reform pushes through…we’re going to see very different results in 2019.

  6. The NDP should be fine. Justin Trudeau is staying for the entirety of Davos, partying and snowboarding with the banksters, 1%’ers, plutocrats, and assorted celebrities for the full four days, while the Canadian economy is melting under his feet.

    Trudeau is for the middle class. What a joke!

    • By that logic you must have loved Stephen Harper skipping the opportunity to speak at the United Nations to hang out at a Tim Horton’s.

      • Thomasein….

        the average man or woman at Tim Horton’s could more accurately describe what is need to run the country than could the top diplomat at Davos. You see, thomasien…..folks at Timmie’s live in the REAL world. They understand that they are responsible for the costs they run up.

        Beaurocrats don’t care, because the money they spend doesn’t come out of their pockets.

        Harper made the right choice. the entire UN is a FARCE in any event. We should pull out of it.

  7. The whole deficit spending to prosperity is going to fail so miserably that Mulcair will gain credibility as the Trudeau Liberals fail spectacularly in government.

    The Liberals promised unicorns, and they are going to deliver donkeys with parking cone strapped to its face with duct tape.

  8. Mulcair didn’t lose the last election because he wasn’t doing a good job as Opposition leader, he lost the last election because his campaign team was SO GOOD at making Harper look scarey, that even his own supporters voted Liberal to make sure Harper was ousted.

    Trudeau did not win because of anything he did, or any policy he proposed, he won because he managed to scare many NDP’ers to hold their noses and vote liberal. As well, Trudeau spent a LOT of time catering to the Muslim’s in Toronto and first nations in all of Canada and promising the moon and stars in exchange for their support.

    Canadian’s prefer someone who is “nice, and looks pretty” but is clearly incompetent, as opposed to someone like harper, who is brainy, competent, and also not that nice at first glance.

    The last election result was simple the victory of style over substance.

    Mulcair couldn’t compete against Trudeau on the first case, or Harper in the second.

  9. It was pretty apparent to anyone working on the ground what happened with the NDP. In ridings across the country, they were going around with outdated or skewed polling information telling everyone they were the best chance to beat the Conservatives, even in ridings where they clearly didn’t stand a chance. In my riding, one of those polls was commissioned by the NDP candidate’s own employer and they even went so far as to play with the scale on a graph in their literature. They played dirty with strategic votes, but the voters caught on. That, combined with Mulcair’s arrogance on full display, saw the Libs become the positive choice in a country clearly tired of constant political cynicism.

    I have a lot of respect for politicians of any stripe with integrity, but I have zero respect for anyone who actively works towards keeping voters misinformed.

    • It isn’t just the mis-informed voter that is a problem NwTexPort.

      Some voters do their best to stay informed, but they are simply wrong in what they have come to believe. We can’t fix that during the election. folks need to learn the error of their ways in a sometimes painful manner.

      If you want to see this in action….just keep your eyes on Alberta. THe buyers remorse will be strong in that province; and it will simply increase the longer Notley and her socialist hoardes are in power.

      And by the way….when are we going to start making predictions for Federal Deficits? As it stands now, I’m guessing that the first year in office for Trudeau that the deficit will be about $36 BILLION. (Unless they decide NOT to follow most of their own promises)

      And that is my OPTIMISTIC prediction.

      • I trust you’ll be as vocal as you were when Harper reached deficit levels of $55B, $33B and $26B consecutively.

        • I have already replied to this one, but apparently the admin folks didn’t approve.

          I’ll provide a quick re-cap.

          the deficits you refer to were the result of a world-wide recession (caused by Wall Street in the USA) which saw the opposition parties gang-up on Harper and force him to enact the “Economic action plan”. The deficits you refer to, were a surplus by the time the election came around. Surplus of $5 BIllion, but after just two weeks in office, the Liberals were already looking for a deficit over $10 Billion, and blamed it on the previous Government.

          Can’t write much more or I’ll get deleted again.

  10. MP Jenny Kwan from Vancouver East will be ready to replace MP Mulcair if there is a NDP federal leadership convention.

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