The Commons: As good a guess as any

The first sound Thomas Mulcair made when he reached the lectern was a sigh

by Aaron Wherry

Frank Gunn/CP Images

At 7:49pm Eastern Standard Time in Toronto, Thomas Mulcair had to use the facilities. One last bathroom break before destiny.

On his way to the men’s room, down the second-floor hallway strewn with the bodies of the faithful, everyone so very tired, Mr. Mulcair passed within maybe three feet of Brian Topp, the only other remaining candidate conferring then with his campaign manager in a relatively secluded corner. The two contenders did not appear to acknowledge other.

A necessary amount of time later, Mr. Mulcair emerged from the bathroom and proceeded back down the hallway. Once again the two candidates passed within feet of each other. If they acknowledged each other, it was fleeting. Mr. Mulcair went on back to his headquarters. Mr. Topp sat on a table and talked with one of his aides for awhile. No jacket, right hand resting on hip.

At 8:02pm, from the far end of the hall, the sound of drums rang out and a clapping, gyrating throng of supporters from Team Mulcair emerged. Dancing their way down the hall, they proceeded to the escalator positioned in front of the Team Topp headquarters and then down to the subterranean convention hall on the basement floor. A smattering of Mr. Topp’s supporters watched the heaving mob. Some raised their hands and clapped along as the likely victors marched towards the final confirmation.

The moment was soon at hand. And then, of course, it was announced that the results would be delayed by an hour.

***

A long seven months ended with a long day. A curious race culminated in a fraught vote. A party haunted by the spectres of Jack Layton and Stephen Harper—wondering about how to follow the former, fretting about how to match the latter—guessed on Thomas Mulcair.

It is never anything more than a guess. And this is probably as good a guess as any.

Of the seven candidates on offer, five seemed like they might be on to something. None were perfect. Or even obviously superior. Paul Dewar was wonderfully endearing, but ultimately lacked votes. And also an ability to speak fluently en francais. Peggy Nash might have had a case, but ran out of time to make it. Nathan Cullen had a crazy idea and got further with it than one would’ve imagined. Brian Topp knew everything there was to know. Except how to look and sound the part. And maybe he would’ve figured that out too. But New Democrats apparently weren’t willing to guess that he would. The hordes that filled the room with their signs and t-shirts seemed to personify their candidates. The Dewar cheerleaders were earnest. The Nash crowd chanted urgently. The Cullen supporters were giddy, so glad to be here. The Topp crowd was subdued, almost cerebral in their pep (or lack thereof).

The Mulcair throng was professional. At least so far as these cheering mobs go. And the going guess when this weekend began was that Mr. Mulcair was the likely winner and the proper choice. In the short term, the experts guessed right. In the long term, it is anyone’s guess. Mr. Mulcair is a solid-looking man, bearded and nicknamed for a bear. He can talk fast (sometimes too fast) and loud. He will relish the opportunity to rise in the House each afternoon and be seen standing up to Mr. Harper. He knows how this works. He has shown that he can win. But then so did Michael Ignatieff and so did Stephane Dion. But then again, so did Jack Layton and so did Stephen Harper. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all down to something like luck or chance. Or at least the odds that the sitting government becomes engulfed in a profound and outrageous scandal.

***

Approximately 20 minutes after 9pm, the president of the party proudly shouted his name as the next prime minister of Canada. The celebration commenced. The candidates and the caucus gathered on stage. The family circled round. It was all clapping and hugs and handshakes. Even for Ed Broadbent.

The first sound he made when he reached the lectern was a sigh. “Tous Ensemble,” he said soon thereafter, a chant Michael Ignatieff once hung his candidacy on. What followed was not roaring. More like a lecture. Read by a professor who wanted to get through this. And who had a lot to do. As, suddenly, Mr. Mulcair does.

There was a bit of poetry. About how the community centres and union halls of this land may not be as grand as the Parliament buildings, but that what goes on within is so vital to our democracy. But the most rousing bit might’ve been a nod something his late predecessor said. “As Jack Layton said, our greatest accomplishment on May 2 wasn’t winning seats in Parliament,” Mr. Mulcair recounted. “Our greatest accomplishment on May 2 was giving people a reason to believe…”

The crowd’s cheers drowned out his attempt to finish that sentence.

***

Nathan Phillips Square is just concrete now. There is nothing written there. The words have long since washed away. And what’s left is what was there before that remarkable week in August when Jack Layton became something immortal. And now Mr. Mulcair must carry on.

After he had promised not to “demonize” the NDP’s opponents, he disappeared backstage. He emerged to find the cameras waiting. Under the steel bleachers then began a slow, quiet procession, Mr. Mulcair flanked by his family, surrounded by men in suits, the cameramen and producers walking backwards in front of him. Slowly but surely the new leader of the opposition walked into the lights.




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The Commons: As good a guess as any

  1. Ugh.  The NDP will destroy itself with this man at the helm.

    • And…?

  2. He’s earned his chance. Let’s just see how the hand plays out

  3. I cannot wait for QP  – I’m fantasizing that Mulcair will be able to make Harper’s hair move.

    • Damnit…I just inhaled my coffee!

      • You’re inhaling coffee at 1am EST? Sounds unhealthy.

        • LOL probably is, but I’m still working so coffee is a necessity.

          • You get paid to comment on Macleans?

          • You think the only employer on the planet is Macleans???

          • I think most employers would frown on someone spending work-time on a comment board, unless that’s what they’re being paid to do.

          • @Gaunilon:disqus 

            No, most web employers find it perfectly normal.

            Especially when they’re the employer.

          • They pay???

    • OK; I truly laughed out loud at that one.I pictured it sliding backward slightly, in unison, like a helmet getting jarred by a blow.

      • Just slightly askew for the rest of QP.  Harper constantly fiddles with his suit buttons, imagine if he thought his hair was amiss.  Of course, if Mulcair’s temper is as bad as some are saying it could knock it right off.  Probably wake up Anders.

        • Harper is cool.
          Mulcair is a hothead.
          Canadians like cool

          • Um… I am Canadian… and I DO NOT think Harper is cool… even a little bit. In fact… he is about as un-cool as I can possibly imagine.

          • He was talking about their tempers.

  4. One person, one vote should produce the best result. There will be lots of unhappy dippers but most of them will get over it and a few will start voting for communist party or somesuch. Mulcair is interesting choice because now Liberals have more left wing leader than NDP and I am not convinced that is good for Libs. 

    James Surowiecki ~ Wisdom of Crowds:
    As it happens, the possibilities of group intelligence, at least when it came to judging questions of fact, were demonstrated by a host of experiments conducted by American sociologists and psychologists between 1920 and the mid-1950s, the heyday of research into group dynamics. Although in general, as we’ll see, the bigger the crowd the better, the groups in most of these early experiments—which for some reason remained relatively unknown outside of academia—were relatively small. Yet they nonetheless performed very well. 

    The Columbia sociologist Hazel Knight kicked things off with a series of studies in the early 1920s, the first of which had the virtue of simplicity. In that study Knight asked the students in her class to estimate the room’s temperature, and then took a simple average of the estimates. The group guessed 72.4 degrees, while the actual temperature was 72 degrees. This was not, to be sure, the most auspicious beginning, since classroom temperatures are so stable that it’s hard to imagine a class’s estimate being too far off base.

    But in the years that followed, far more convincing evidence emerged, as students and soldiers across America were subjected to a barrage of puzzles, intelligence tests, and word games. The sociologist Kate H. Gordon asked two hundred students to rank items by weight, and found that the group’s “estimate” was 94 percent accurate, which was better than all but five of the individual guesses. In another experiment students were asked to look at ten piles of buckshot—each a slightly different size than the rest—that had been glued to a piece of white cardboard, and rank them by size. This time, the group’s guess was 94.5 percent accurate.

    A classic demonstration of group intelligence is the jelly-beans-in-the-jar experiment, in which invariably the group’s estimate is superior to the vast majority of the individual guesses. When finance professor Jack Treynor ran the experiment in his class with a jar that held 850 beans, the group estimate was 871. Only one of the fifty-six people in the class made a better guess.

    • While I am a big fan of one-person, one-vote for some things, not sure if party leadership should be one. I’m a fan of the caucus deciding their leader in the house, not the party membership.

      I also think we need to more closely examine online voting. First, if we are to believe the software did what it should (and that enough people check their receipts post-election to verify validity), there are still many problems. With in-person ballots your vote is anonymous, and thus can’t be bought/etc. With online voting, like write-in ballots, someone can be there with you when you sign on (or sign on for you) to make that vote. So much of how our voting system currently works is lost when we move to even the most accountable/traansparent and secure online voting system. I believe the costs are high, and the benefits are minimal and unproven (IE: voter turnout, etc). There are far better ways to improve voter turnout (electoral reform, more accountable/transparent parties, etc) that don’t have the costs.

    • Communist party?  Jelly bean guessing?

  5. How does Stephen Harper avoid responsibility for the classless, tasteless, uncivil, ugly, Conservative response to the election of the new leader of another party? As they say in the States, I’m Stephen harper and I approve this ad or in this case response. Or as Brian M said of John Turner, “you are responsible you could have said no”. 
    The Ottawa media just allow Harper the fiction that these ungracious, crass, thug like remarks come from somewhere in the air, and do not belong on Harper’s doorstep. They come from Harper’s lips, and should be reported and discussed as such.

    • James Moore, who was an observer and of course got on camera to serve up the talking points, now claims that he congratulated Mulcair on behalfof the government, off camera of course.  Just another wanker, James you could have been a ‘contendah’. 

    • What thug response has Stephen Harper given?

  6. All the best to Mr. Mulcair and his party.  May they win victories when they’re right, lose decisively when they’re wrong, and maintain a respectful but vigorous Opposition in the House until the next election.

    • Even-handed civility? You make me sick. Go back to Russia!

      • Russia?

        • You’re either with the Cons or you’re a communist – didn’t you get the memo?

          • I thought it was with the Cons or the pedophiles….when did it go back to communists? I definitely missed the memo..

    •  And the 37% of Canadians dumb enough to vote for harper the last time the wisdom to know the differenece!

      • Yes, all Conservative voters are dumb.

  7. Seeing Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough together in their matching teal outfits, seeing Stephen Lewis reminisce about a time he wanted to debate the nationalization of resources, and indeed, the uncharacteristic grouchiness of Ed Broadbent make one thing really clear. This ain’t my grandpa’s NDP, rooted in an alliance between farmers and labourers.

    To people that think things never change in Canadian politics, ponder this…
    The NDP is the party of French Canada
    The Liberals are the party of high church Anglican bluebloods (or their contemporary equivalent)
    The Tories are the party of cowboys, labourers and immigrants

    • You must be thinking of some other country.

    • And arguably it has been the Liberals and their supporters who have been the slowest in waking up to the fact that these kinds of shifts have taken place.  Which is part of the reason they’re a 3rd place party at the moment.

    •  Moreso the CPC are the party of those who hate immigrants.

      • It’s thinking like that that has the Liberals in third place.  You’re stuck in the past.

        • Actually I think he might be stuck in a parallel universe, but either way, he appears to be inhabiting a reality other than the one in which Canadian elections occur.

          • He has a problem with the “Reality Factor” — i.e., seeing the world for what it really is vs. what he would like it to be.  Too many Liberals these days want to pretend it’s 1990 instead of 2012.

        • There’s been some paternalistic “outreach”, I won’t deny it.  Mr. Wells I believe has noted that it’s been a CPC challenge bringing together immigrants and people who don’t like immigrants (if I am misquoting the Macleans senior political editor I hope he will correct me).

          hard to find a more racist public initiative than Mr. kenney’s anti-veiled citizenship bit though, in the last 40 years, though.

      • A group which evidently includes a lot of immigrants, if Tory successes at winning the votes of New Canadians indicate…

    • I see the NDP/French Canada observation, and the Tory/cowboy/labourer/immigrant observation (although immigrants are split – new ones are breaking CPC while second gen ones still break LPC, I think).  But I don’t know what the contemporary equivalent of a “high church Anglican blueblood” is.  

      In my experience they’re more likely to be raised-nominally-Catholic-with-no-actual-theological-formation-now-essentially-atheist-since-being-indoctrinated-in-university-by-some-political-science-professor types, whose single most distinguishing characteristic is a lack of interest in principles and whose second most distinguishing characteristic is a burning hunger to be seen as “moderate”.

      • I’m going a bit far back on the blueblood thing. Toronto used to be a Tory fortress, thanks to the patronage of the sort of well-heeled protestants. Today the [mostly agnostic or atheist] progeny of those voters are among the most rock-ribbed Liberals. Find me a well-educated Toronto professional, and chances are, they’re a Liberal (who might vote NDP if a strategic voting website told them to… and if they figured there was little chance the NDP would actually get to govern).

        As for the Catholic thing, in 2000 that was true – Catholicism was the second-best demographic predictor of somebody voting Liberal (after being non-European – moving to a split on the immigrant vote though, is a huge gain for the Tories). Today, the Conservatives are as Catholic as the Liberals.

        According to the 2011 CES, 31.2% of Tories were Catholic versus 34.4% of Liberals.
        As for Anglicans, 8.9% of Liberals were Anglicans, versus 8.1% of Tories. This used to be a very different picture. Incidentally, the NDP is now the most Catholic party, though that consists largely of Quebec Catholics, who aren’t very religious…

        The NDP, of course, being a party founded by social gospel Western evangelicals. But if you look at a church that was at the forefront of that movement – the United Church – today they’re all Tories. 50.6% of UC adherents are Conservative, 26.7% are Dippers and 21.7% are Liberals.

        • “…- the United Church – today they’re all Tories. 50.6% of UC adherents are Conservative,…”

          I guess you’re told enough times that 39% in favour of something is a “strong mandate” for it, 50% starts to feel like 100.
          Fun hosermath fact:  As of the previous election, more than all Americans supported Obama.

    • Teal outfits – are you a fashion critic?  I always thought that was considered gay in the Con communty?

    • Like things really simple do ya, Tex? 

      • He makes clear and logical points.
        You contribute drivel.

  8. Aside from being what Rick Mercer called “a security detail’s dream,” what needs to be at the absolute peak of his priority list is learning to control his temper and his mouth.  (This is one of Topp’s strong spots.)  Herr Harper is a master at baiting his enemies, especially those not known for such, into stupid moves while deftly avoiding said moves himself.

  9. Dear Mr. Mulcair,
    Will you also be standing up for working Canadians by calling for an immediate moratorium on all new immigration?  With unemployment going up, working Canadians certainly don’t need more competition for scarce jobs.  An experienced Provincial cabinet minister like yourself will also understand that immigration, especially “family class” immigration is basically a recipe for destroying the viability of social programs that working Canadians depend on the most, by filling the country with more and more takers who will never be able to pay into the system what they take out.  So, what’s it going to be, Mr. M?  Stand up for Canadians or go along with the mass immigration/cheap labour scam for the sake of political correctness?

  10. What a pointless article.

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