Thomas Mulcair’s plan to win the next election

Thomas Mulcair on a PM who won’t talk to anyone, fair taxes, dealing with Quebec, and winning the next election

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

Photograph by Andrew Tolson

If there’s going to be a happy warrior in the 2015 election, then, by God, Tom Mulcair is determined it’ll be him. The NDP leader arrived at Toronto’s Rogers headquarters, fresh from a Labour Day parade, and remained determinedly upbeat through a half-hour conversation. Next year’s election campaign is already under way, he said. He hinted at what the NDP will promise on business taxes, carbon pricing, child care, the Senate and more. The past year has been frustrating for the man who replaced the revered Jack Layton as head of Parliament’s first NDP official Opposition. Too much of the spotlight, for his taste, has gone to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. But if ever a leader has relished an uphill fight, it’s Mulcair.

Q: You are off to Edmonton for your national caucus retreat. I have this image of every MP vanishing into a chute. When they come out the end of it, there will be a new prime minister, or the one we’ve got now. Is this essentially a pre-electoral session of Parliament?

A: No question. Everything that the government’s going to be doing for the next year, everything we’re going to be doing as the Opposition, has one objective in mind: forming the government. We’d love, for the first time in Canadian history, to have an NDP government, and that’s what we’re working toward.

Q: What are you going to do to achieve that?

A: We’re going to keep putting substantive things on the table, which we started doing just over a year ago. [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper announced, without ever telling anyone in advance that this was something he was thinking of, in Davos, Switzerland, that Canadians now have to work until 67 to receive their pension. I remember the 2011 campaign where he never mentioned that to Canadians. We’re going to call him out on that and ask what else is he hiding, if he ever gets re-elected. The NDP is going to roll that age back from 67 to 65. We’ve already started to talk that, if there is a surplus, we’ll avoid the reduction in the transfers that the Conservatives have already announced. Remember that [former finance minister Jim] Flaherty, after no discussion or debate, simply announced that there would be as much as $36 billion less transferred to the provinces. What we’re saying is that, if you have a surplus, it’s a false one, because you’re planning that cut—then make sure it goes over to health care as a priority. This fall, you’ll hear us talk about child care. I’ve been going across Canada, listening to parents, talking with provincial authorities. It’s a big issue for us. The Liberals got rid of the federal minimum wage the last time they were in power—you’ll hear us talking a lot about that, as well.

Q: So let’s start to add some of this up: pensions back to age 65, stopping the closure of post offices, holding up the rate of health care transfers to what it had been for the last several years, and reopening veterans’ centres. That’s a lot of money.

A: Nine veterans’ centres does not cost a lot of money. In fact, in the overall budgets of the government, it was more of a slap in the face to those brave men and women than anything else. And, yes, we will reopen those nine offices. The post office made a profit 18 out of the last 19 years. The only year it didn’t was when the Conservatives locked out the workers. It was bad-faith bargaining from the word go, because they wanted to create a condition where they could play that game of forcing them back to work. It came as Jack Layton’s last work in Parliament. It was also an opportunity for Canadians to get to know the young women and men who were in our caucus, and it gave them the ability to develop their chops on a tough issue, the longest filibuster in Canadian parliamentary history.

Q: Post offices and veterans’ centres don’t cost a lot, but pensions and health transfers still do.

A: These numbers were run by [former parliamentary budget officer] Kevin Page. There was no reason except for ideology to move the age of retirement from 65 to 67. Page couldn’t have been clearer: He ran the numbers and the system was sustainable the way it was. And if you really believe in something and you’re the Prime Minister of Canada, do you go to the Swiss Alps to make that announcement? Or do you have the courage to go to Sudbury, [Ont.] and tell hard-rock miners that they don’t work hard enough and need to do it for another couple of years? I know which choice Stephen Harper made. I’d talk to Canadians, straight up.

Q: Straight up, then, how are you going to get the revenues for your spending promises?

A: Unlike the Liberals, who say they aren’t going to touch anything, we’ve been clear that the only Canadians who haven’t been paying their fair share are Canadian corporations. They’ve had their tax level dropped way below the OECD average, way below what the Americans are paying. All the things that cost the general public a lot through their taxes, corporations—who use that money to generate profit—should be paying their fair share. Mr. Harper doesn’t believe in that, but we do.

Q: In your speech to the Canadian Medical Association, you talked about $50 billion in corporate tax cuts, with $36 billion being paid for by health transfers. Is that about the scale of the corporate income tax increases you’re looking at, $50 billion?

A: We will make sure that Canadian corporate taxes stay below what the Americans have been charging, because we’ve always had the competitive gap. We need to make sure Canada remains an attractive place to invest. We’ll also wind up below the OECD average, but we’re so far below both right now, it doesn’t make any sense. And the order of magnitude that you’re discussing? No, we won’t put things back to exactly where they were before. We’re going to make sure Canada remains competitive, but also ensure corporations pay their fair share, which they aren’t doing right now. We’ve lost the balance in our tax system.

Q: Are you anticipating any revenues from some kind of carbon pricing mechanism?

A: We’re going to have revenues, because there’s going to be a price on carbon, and that money is going to be paid over immediately for purposes that have to do with the environment. In other words, Canada will become a major player in green renewables. Right now, we’re not a major player, because our current government doesn’t believe our state has a role to play. But we think it’s the key to creating the next generation of well-paid jobs in our country.

Q: I’m catching up with you in Toronto, where there are 30-odd federal seats within several miles of us. Do the people of Toronto know Tom Mulcair well enough?

A: I’m certainly doing what I can to make that the case. We’ve been multiplying our presences here, trying to go to a range of cultural and business events. When I came out of Quebec politics, I was a well-known figure, but less so federally. Jack gave me an excellent opportunity to shine in Ottawa when he made me the deputy leader. But there’s no question that my family name might be common in Ireland, but less so here. We’re trying to increase our profile and let people know we’re continuing the proud tradition of the NDP.

Q: I often remind people that, in 2011, most NDP seats were in Quebec, but most of its voters are outside of Quebec and that’s a difficult—

A: Equation?

Q: Yes, it’s hard to strike a balance: Quebec is a distinct society. Do you often find yourself having to arbitrate between your Quebec base and reaching beyond it?

A: Across Canada and within Quebec, people are reacting very well to our MPs. So I watch them and I watch how people react to them—I’ve been in this game a long time, I’ve got some subjective analysis—and they’re doing great. That’s the positive side of what Jack put together. The 2006 offer, the Sherbrooke Declaration, without reopening the Constitution, simply answering some of the long-standing requests Quebec has had that don’t take anything away from anyone—that’s the way to go, as far as we were concerned. And Quebecers were ready for that sea change: rejecting the Bloc [Québécois] because all they could do was block, and wondering if they could make things work while staying part of Canada; that’s the hope for the future.

Q: Are you ruling out constitutional change to accommodate Quebec’s traditional demands?

A: It’s not on the table. It doesn’t mean these things couldn’t be constitutionalized at a later date, but I think Canadians have always seen this as the third rail for the whole country.

Q: You’re talking about a substantial increase in health transfers over what the Conservatives have planned. Would you ask for some kind of deal in return from the provinces?

A: It’s not that hard. If you do it right, you can get the best practices on the table. I’ve heard, “The federal government should be doing X to require Y of the provinces.” But, in this case, the federal government is itself a health care provider—about 20 per cent across the country, when you add together veterans, penitentiaries and First Nations. I think some of the federal health care practices are worth copying, but, otherwise, I don’t know that it has that many lessons to offer the provinces and territories. Even so, Stephen Harper hasn’t once met with the Council of the Federation. You can’t run a country like Canada if you don’t talk to your partners. We’ve undertaken to have two meetings a year, one in Ottawa and one in a province or territory on a rotating basis to ensure we work together.

Q: Would the Prime Minster attend both meetings?

A: I would, as prime minister.

Q: Would they ever get a chance to meet alone?

A: As often as they want. But the Council of the Federation was a hopeful sign that an era of bickering was now over. Instead, we got a Prime Minister who won’t talk to anyone else. He won’t talk to journalists, either. I’m not afraid to talk to either.

Q: Would a prime minister Tom Mulcair show up at one of these Council of the Federation meetings with a proposal to abolish the Senate? And how would he do on that day?

A: Well, I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. I’ve been going across the country, whether it’s meeting with Premier [Robert] Ghiz in P.E.I. . . . He was quite clear with me; he’s not going to fight to keep senators. He does want to keep his four MPs, and that wouldn’t be a hard deal to make. We believe that, in this day and age, having this simulated House of Lords dictating to the elected what they can and can’t do is an absurdity. In Quebec City, [the former upper house, abolished in 1968] is a lovely meeting room, and in the House of Commons, we think the Senate would make the ideal daycare.

Q: The Supreme Court says: Not so fast; you need the consent of every provincial legislature.

A: I don’t disagree with that. In fact, I just said that.

Q: Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says he doesn’t want to play.

A: Well, Philippe Couillard said something a little bit more substantial than that. He had a series of things, looking at what he would call traditional demands, or requests. Those would include the ability to opt out of federal spending in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Go to the Sherbrooke Declaration: You don’t need constitutional change to have that sort of arrangement between Quebec and the federal government, so the things he’s set down could easily be answered. If you look at the Sherbrooke Declaration, it’s there—most of it. The only one that requires a little bit of fine tuning is, he’s talking about exclusive jurisdiction on immigration. Obviously, Canada’s a country, there’s going to have to be continued co-operation, but Quebec has a more open ability to deal with the selection of immigrants than any other province, and we can enhance that. But Canada would still have to be Canada.

Q: The Conservatives have been running radio ads against Trudeau and his marijuana policy. They’ve spent about a million bucks on them. They’ve run far fewer ads against Mulcair and the NDP. Do you feel left out?

A: Well, I’ll let the Conservatives make their evaluations. They’re pretty smart politicians. They obviously consider it a good investment; I wouldn’t put my money on that.

Q: Is it frustrating to ask at least five questions a day in question period; to travel the country as avidly as you do; and to see, for 16 consecutive months, the Liberals leading in the polls?

A: You know, what’s going to happen a year from now is that people are going to be voting to determine who can actually run the government and lead a G7 country. I think the concentration of people around that issue is going to lead a lot of people to the NDP. I’ve always understood that the NDP is going to have to fight for every column-inch. We’re going to continue fighting. I do have the well-deserved reputation of being a strong fighter. I bring that fight to issues that are important to us in the NDP and have always identified us: Fighting for workers’ rights. Fighting for better wages. Fighting to ensure that families have a better shake in the current economy, where a lot of good-paying jobs are lost. We’re the only ones who talk about that, and we’re going to continue doing it.

Q: I think one of the Conservative calculations is that, in the election, you’ll stop turning all your attention on the government and turn a good measure onto the Liberals.

A: My attention is on Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. The Conservative policies of Stephen Harper are hurting the country that I know and love. I love Canada. I’m proud of being a Canadian. When I go across the country, I see just how lucky we are, and when I go across Quebec, I see a hopefulness that I haven’t seen in decades.

Q: So, in 13 months, we’re going to have a federal election. It’s easy to imagine a scenario that looks like this: The Conservatives lose a bunch of seats, but still have more seats than any other party. Liberals and New Democrats together have more seats than the Conservatives do. Who should be prime minister in that kind of situation?

A: Well, I’ll let you and the other pundits discuss that one ad infinitum, but I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to work tirelessly from coast to coast to coast to elect an NDP government.

Q: Should the party that wins the most seats at the next election form the government?

A: Yes. The party that forms the next government is the party that has the largest number of seats. That’s our constitutional order.

Q: Let me test that with a hypothetical: If it’s the Conservatives with 130 seats, and the other two parties between you have way more than that, should the Conservatives still form the government?

A: Our constitutional form of government says that the first kick goes to the party that has the largest number of seats.

Q: “The first kick”: The Conservatives would get to test the House, and then the House would decide?

A: Not really, because the NDP is going to be forming the government, because we’ll have the largest number of seats.

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Thomas Mulcair’s plan to win the next election

  1. Mulcair and the NDP have made the fatal mistake of not going after born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-his-mouth-boy.

    Jack Layton was Stephen Harper’s tag team partner in beating up Liberal leaders from the left and while Harper did from the right. It is why he became opposition leader. Smiling Jack never hesitated to stick in the dagger, while he was smiling.

    Mulcair has been AWOL.

    • Hardly fatal. You are of course absolutely correct about Layton’s ability to skewer the Liberals and also about the fact that Mulcair’s attacks on Trudeau have the potential to be much more damaging than Harper’s comments at a Calgary BBQ.

      Layton’s legacy has been opposition status for the NDP, the benefits of which fell to Mulcair following Layton’s death. So what are those benefits? A nice house, more questions in the House etc so the NDP MPs have some benefits. Meanwhile NDP supporters have watched a Conservative dynasty finally reach its full potential. Frankly they were horrified at the result. So while the upper levels of the Liberals and NDP continue to hate each other, the parties’ grassroots and swing supporters want some level of cooperation to oust the Conservatives. The compromise appears to be a focus on the Conservatives but no formal cooperation before an election.

      Right now many predict Trudeau will win the next election. I believe Harper has at least one more win in him. In any case, it is very hard to work the numbers for either the Liberals or Conservatives and imagine a majority government. Mulcair will be leading the 3rd party, but have much more real power than he has today.

      • It’s hard to know if that’s just a wacky theory you have there, or if TM really is that strategic. IOWs he’s placing his best bet for real influence[and power] on a shot gun marriage with a very inexperienced Trudeau after the dust settles in ’15.[ that’s a worry for liberals. Probably why some think JT ought to be LOL for a while first. And probably why JT isn’t giving Tom any love at all] I think it’s an interesting theory and goes some way toward answering the question: why not tougher on JT. If this is the case my estimation of TM just went up. Not just because he knows where the best interests of his party lie, but because he gets the real enemy for progressives and centrist libs has always been Harper. I actually think Jack got forgot that, essentially enabling SH.
        Up till now i don’t share PW’s enthusiasm for the guy – he’s made some real booboos that essentially played into young Trudeau’s hands – particularly on QC and the courts; and his foray into Dutch disease has been an unmitigated disaster.But if your theory is right, that could change.
        The only serious disagreement i have with you is you have it the wrong way around; if anything the leaders of the libs/ndp are more open to cooperation whatever they may say publicly[ always depending on the gap of course. Right now JT has his nose up in the air as far as the ndp are concerned, as did TM a year or so ago]but from the little i can see from my distant perch, the grass roots of the two respective camps still despise one another – the hard core crowd anyway.
        To test your theory i guess we’d need to see what happens it Harper makes a comeback in the polls, or if the ndp close the gap with the libs again.

        • OTOH we could be just reading too much into this question – why not tougher on JT Tom?
          It could simply be that Mulcair isn’t obsessed with everything named Trudeau, isn’t a border line sociopath, and generally a good notch above complete dickhead. But that’s probably just my bias talking anyway.

    • A “mistake” for which we’ll all be thankful when the born-in-a-cave party is relegated to third-party status.

  2. Mulcair looks and sounds solid. He knows Quebec, he’s getting to know Canada, and certainly knows Harper. Mulcair will fine tune his approach as the election proceeds. If Cons and Libs duke it out, someone may just run down the middle–successfully.

    • Canadians aren’t going to vote for a leader whose election promise is to take the apart our constitution in order to try and destroy the institutions that are the tools to govern this country, in order to allow a PM complete autonomy over parliament. Canada will not be ready for another constitutional confrontation after the 2015 election. Canada wants to move ahead, not back.

    • Yes, Mulcair has accomplishment, and is a gifted speaker who is substantive – a rare combination that his two rivals lack.

      The corporate media’s job is to frame the coming election as a battle – once again – of the two old-line parties so that they can alternate in power and the political-corporate-media elites will remain unchallenged.

      Hence the sweetheart interviews of Trudeau with no persistent questioning of his lack of any taxation policy, or support for an XL pipeline that will export raw bitumen – and good Cdn, value-added middle class jobs – to the US: all the while talking about his concern for a class of which he has read about, the middle class!

      Liberal…. tory … same old story.

  3. You gotta be kidding. Everybody knows that Quebec goes in fits and starts – first Mulroney, then somebody else, then Bouchard, then Jack Layton (not Mulcair) and who’s next? Not Mulcair anyway. And I doubt Trudeau II. Actually, although Harper has been a bit too regal he has given good government, is good internationally (except for Liberals who want to let it all hang out).

    • Trudeau is ahead in the current Quebec polls, with Mulcair close behind. So those are the two that will do the best there in 2015. It certainly isn’t likely to be Harper unless something major changes in Quebec.

  4. Mulcair needs to stop boasting about his abilities. Did Wells ask Mulcair if he’s aware of how bombastic he sounds? Mulcair has some undeniable strengths, but he also has some weaknesses. Does Mulcair recognize any of his weaknesses? Does he realize that Trudeau is a stronger campaigner than he is, for example? Or that while Brian Mulroney praised Mulcair’s Question Period skills this week, he said that the one Harper has to worry about is Trudeau?

    • Why always the personal attacks on leaders other than Trudeau, Rebecca?
      And why not discuss substantive issues such as federal corporate taxation or the XL pipeline?
      Trudeau and Harper both support the 15% federal corporate tax rate – the lowest in the OECD nations, and they both support the export of raw bitumen – and good value-added Cdn jobs – via the XL pipeline to the US: in other words Trudeau is Harper-lite on two major issues!
      The politics of personality is fun – but shallow – and cannot replace of the politics of real issues at this critical time in our nation’s history.

  5. Does Mulcair realize the reason the press has been giving a lot of coverage to Justin Trudeau? It’s because he’s been winning. Mulcair has been not. The press isn’t biased in favour of Trudeau. They’re just doing their job. When a leader is beating the incumbent Prime Minister, that’s the leader you give a lot of coverage to. Trudeau has been beating Harper not just in polls, but doing the best in by-elections. The NDP has done poorly in by-elections since Mulcair has been leader. They’re 3rd in fundraising, polls & by-election results. That’s not the fault of the press. That’s Mulcair’s responsibility to improve.

    • The Liberal Toronto Star isn’t biased, the Globe and Mail , and the National Post are balanced? Really?

      Please name regular columnists on any of these three papers – or on the tv chains – that deal fairly with the New Democrats.

      Understandably the corporate media support the two corporate parties that support the corporate-political media elite that John Porter so ably analyzed generations ago in his outstanding “The Vertical Mosaic”.

      • Didn’t the Toronto Star endorse the NDP the last federal election?

  6. Refreshing to see a Cdn leader who will meet members of the corporate media and not speak in platitudes but rather speak to particular issues and priorities.

    Harper will remain in a bubble until his defeat in 2015.

    Trudeau says we must wait until just before the 2015 election to learn of his policies but indicated that he supports the current federal corporate tax rate while CPAC (cable channel) hosts calculated that the recent Liberal Convention made policy promises totaling over $34 BILLION! Mind you, he says budgets balance themselves, so maybe he will refuse to comment on petty matters such as fair taxation?

    We also know – from Trudeau’s courting of the Alberta oil/pipeline interests – that he supports the XL pipeline and the export of raw bitumen – and good value-added Cdn jobs – to the US!

    As the House resumes, one wonders if Trudeau will continue to haltingly read from his question script – or will he learn to speak from his heart and mind – rather than the script of his handlers?

    • He may speak more to particular issues and priorities with more force and specificity than Harper or Trudeau, but what if large sections of the public think his and his parties ideas or policies are wrong or simply unappealing to them? That’s where the ndp largely is right now. You might be able to drag a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink old ndp slough water if it doesn’t want to. Fact is for whatever reason lots of people aren’t buying the ndp move to the centre. They may or may not have reservations about JT being ready for leadership of the country, but the brand recognition of the LPC as a centrist party is much stronger than that of a social Democratic party attempting to become a centrist party. Spots and leopards comes to mind.

    • The election will not be won or lost on whether Trudeau reads from a script during QP, or whether Mulcair performs well in QP.

      It is funny to hear other party supporters complaining about Trudeau being all flash and no substance when they also seem to think Mulcair’s performance in QP actually matters.

  7. Mulcair seems to be incorrect in that last section. Obviously in a majority situation, the leader of the winning party is invited by the GG to form government, but it’s my understanding that in our system, in the event of a result with no majority, the incumbent PM can choose to remain PM and test his ability to retain confidence of the Commons. King had fewer seats than Meighen, but secured third party support and kept governing, while Martin chose to resign, and Brown did apparently try talking with the LibDems before eventually resigning himself. If the Liberals surpass the Tories in the next election, but fail to secure a majority, it’s up to Harper to either try to command the confidence of the Commons, or resign and suggest the GG contact Justin to form a new government.

    I suspect as we approach the next election, Mulcair will start to divide his attention from Harper and start to attack Justin. Surely Mulcair knows that a resurgent Liberal party all but dooms his party back to third party status. It risks helping re-elect Harper, of course, but I think at the end of the day, the NDP have to play to win the election, and the only way to do that is to end the Liberals as a significant electoral force. I doubt if even Layton could have held the Liberals under Justin to sub 20% support, but it’s clear that so far Mulcair has had no success in positioning himself and his party as the next government. I’ll be interested to see if this new strategy of announcing substantive policy positions starts to change the dynamics. I highly doubt it, though.

  8. Socialism is dead…..Anyone who would listen to the words of this Leftist, Cadillac Socialist, is likely as nutty as he is. I hope that he revokes his French citizenship and becomes a true Canadian.

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