The New Mulcair Party -

The New Mulcair Party


I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Tom Mulcair probably wins the NDP leadership next weekend. If so, it would hardly be the first time the party’s members pick a leader the party establishment finds distasteful. In 2003 Jack Layton was a Toronto city councillor with almost no support in the tiny NDP caucus, who mostly backed big Bill Blaikie. Ed Broadbent did endorse Layton then, but for the most part he looked too big-city, too comfortable with Liberals and conservatives, and altogether too glib for people who thought they knew what was good for the NDP.

The NDP — the card holders — had a different opinion, and Layton worked out okay. These people don’t always do what they’re told. And indeed, the apparent stubborn popularity of Mulcair, who called himself a (Quebec provincial) Liberal for longer than he has called himself a New Democrat — and to a lesser extent the well-run campaign of Nathan Cullen, who supports formal cooperation with the Liberals — suggests New Democrats are open to the notion that the party needs something more, in its strange new circumstance, than more of the same.

Mulcair, as Chris Selley writes, wants to do a bit more of the moderating that Jack Layton already did a lot of. Like a lot of New Democrats, Mulcair himself has no patience with Cullen’s Liberal-New Democrat cooperation scheme, but Cullen is another kind of realist: He would rather advertise a scheme to govern with Liberals before an election, rather than admitting afterward that that was the plan all along, as Layton and Brian Topp did a month after the 2008 election. Cullen’s plans have probably won him more opponents than supporters, but that they’ve won supporters in any number confirms New Democrats’ understanding that they’re in a new game.

So the NDP race comes down, in the home stretch, to James Carville’s favourite frame, change vs. more of the same. Change, represented with perfect mutual incompatibility by Mulcair and Cullen, has the momentum. The “more of the same” camp — I strongly suspect Brian Topp is the candidate Jack Layton wanted to succeed him — isn’t delighted. Ed Broadbent did rather more interviews about Mulcair on Thursday than Mulcair did, and they were unflattering. Broadbent’s sortie has given the gormless and constipated Globe editorial board the vapours, but come on. If a man who’s given his life to building a movement thinks it is about to choose a leader who’s unfit to lead it, should he not say so? As loudly as he can?

Try as he might, Broadbent can’t plausibly argue that the case against Mulcair is about policy, because it’s obviously about personality. Mulcair is hot-tempered, bottomlessly self-satisfied, and Olympian in his ability to carry a grudge. He works well with many people, and really a lot less well with others. The analogy won’t have occurred to Broadbent, but Broadbent must feel the way Preston Manning’s palace guard did when they realized Stockwell Day was about to win the first Canadian Alliance leadership. Decorum will be the last thing on Broadbent’s mind.

I hope I’ve made it obvious that I’m not personally fond of Mulcair, but my point is that NDP members are as entitled to ignore their elders’ advice as their elders are entitled to give it. Most probably know what they’re getting if they get Mulcair: a brittle fellow who also happens to be, by a country mile, the finest debater and sharpest Parliamentarian in the field. There is no sure value in this race. There is only risk. Mulcair is the risk who has won this contest on points.

If he does win, this week’s raised elbows may wind up helping him more than they hurt. It’s handy for a new leader to owe nobody favours. Mulcair’s opponents are spending the campaign’s home stretch warning that he intends to change the very nature of the party. If he beats them and then does so, nobody can say they weren’t warned.




The New Mulcair Party

  1. If Thomas Mulcair wins the NDP leadership (which he is likely to do), he will likely make the party more focussed and professional.  His NDP won’t be a party that tries to please every little group; it will be a party that follows his mission statement (whatever that is) to lead to power.  For example, the NDP may focus on economics over trying to please various interest groups within the party.  Thomas Mulcair will try to make any perceived NDP weakness on economics into strengths.  Likewise, he may go after Conservative supporters by making Harper’s perceived strengths on economic issues to weaknesses.  While the traditional NDP has campaigned strongly on health care and the environment, I think that Mr. Mulcair will campaign on economics.  Great politicians campaign on their weaknesses.  Jean Chrétien campaign successfully on his leadership when others in his party wanted to hide him behind the Liberal banner.

    Mr. Mulcair may make his MPs more professional during Question Period by having them focus on one topic that is relevant to many Canadians.  Currently, the NDP MPs tend to ask a diverse range of questions which may be of interest to particular groups only.

    Finally, Thomas Mulcair will need to balance the interests of Quebec and other other provinces.  For example, if he wants to implement some kind of Bill 101 on federally regulated institutions in Quebec, all the good work that the NDP may do will be wasted outside Quebec.  He’ll have to find ways to support French language rights within and outside Quebec while not offending English Canadians.

    •  There is an ongoing debate as to whether it’s a better idea to just ask the same question 15 times and get the same talking point over and over, or asking a range of questions on different topics.
      Considering that not many people watch question period on a daily basis, if the same question is asked 15 times, the media will pick the Leader’s question when they report on the story. 
      If they ask questions on a range of topics, particularly some that are of interest in the MPs constituencies, chances are that more MPs will make it on the evening news.

      • They’re already asking a range of questions, and they’re being criticized for it.  Unfortunately, due to the leader’s race, the best and the brightest for the most part, aren’t asking the questions.  But if you want headlines and clips on the evening news, Mulcair has to be the one. 

  2. Mulcair could suffer the anti-front runner fate of Michael Ignatieff with all of this talk. I bet someone comes from behind.

    I respect him for stating openly and honestly that there is a coalition against the Conservatives though.

    For the past few years anyone who pointed that out was laughed at, even though it was true.

    • It’s true that people were laughing at you, but it’s not because you were pointing out the blindingly obvious. It’s because you were making obvious your ignorance of how a parliamentary democracy works.

      The way Cons treat their supporters reminds me of the way that lazy babysitters treat their charges, “Keep your heads under the covers, and don’t even think about getting out of bed, or the monsters will get you.”

      • Then why were Liberals and Dippers denying there was any coalition against the CPC for the last 2 years? They were simply lying?

        • Yep. You think the Liberals and Dippers are too good to pander to the ignorant?

        • It’s like groundhog day…

      • Um no.

        The problem with the coalition wasn’t that it isn’t possible under our parliamentary democracy.

        (Although a lot of things are possible. Prorogation for most of the year. No limit on the time frame for an election – imagine a five month campaign! So possible = ok is a bad argument to make.)

        The problem with it was that the Liberals were denying it. That Dion ruled it out and then after the election embraced it. That Ignatieff kept dodging it.

        People have a right to know which platform they are going to get when they are voting.

        The Liberal platform ? The NDP platform ? A bit of both ?

        For a coalition to be legitimate in the sense of having a popular mandate it is incumbent upon the parties to do the following BEFORE an election ends:

        Outline under what conditions you’d enter into a coalition and with who.

        Is that really too much to ask ?? 

        • On day one why did Michael Ignatieff not just say the following:

          My goal is to win a majority Liberal government. I believe we can accomplish it.

          However, if the Conservatives cannot win a majority we would consider forming a coalition with the NDP to give Canadians the strong, stable, majority government that Stephen Harper cannot offer.

          We would not under any circumstances enter into any negotiations with the Bloc Quebecois.

          That’s what a real, decent, honest leader would tell Canadians. MIchael Ignatieff has been complaining a lot about not being given “standing” in the last election.

          It wasn’t just attacks that got in his way though. It was his inability to tell the truth and be his authentic self come what may.

          • I’m pretty sure at some point that is precisely what he did say. Only he went on tv and apparently insisted on digging out the hypothetical and dancing around with it nationally. He just wasn’t a good, or to be fair experienced operative. No real instincts for the game in my oh so better knower opinion[ to translate from the German expression].

        • That is not the case. Much may change before a throne speech and the first opportunity to force a vote of N/C. It is not imcumbent, nor is it anywhere required in statute or constiutional law for a party to declare intention to enter into formal coalition before an election or during a campaign. That is not to say there’s anything to stop an opposing party or PM from pointing out he fears there is a plot and trying to get the putative coalitionists to deny or confirm it. But Harper did no service to the country when he continued to lie to the country last election, insisting that only the party who wins the most seats may govern. That is absolutely not so.
          It remains a matter of political judgement for the leaders of the NDP or liberals to decide whether it is in their best interest to disclose a possible coaltion before E day or wait to see what the throne speech has to offer [ the govt may offer an exceptable compromise agenda knowing their danger. a number of other variables are possible].
          To continue to insist on prior consultation with the public is disingenuous at best and a self serving fallacy at worst. Because a sitting PM fears a coalition against him is a reason to insist his opponents  come clean with the public to his possible political advantage, but wrapping that up in a fallacious argument that coalition is valid only before the vote and entirely illegimate after the election, when parliamentry convention and precedent clearly shows it is a valid option, is politics of the lowest order.
          If the voting public insist this be changed i’m sure there is a process and a way to do so short of calling existing convention into question.

          • Your interpretation is legalistic.

            Harper was making a moral argument centered around the concepts of democratic mandate, legitimacy, and honesty.

            Dion’s rebutal was that all 308 members have a mandate to govern, in any configuration that can hold the confidence of the house. Which is true in a sense.

            But in another sense that hasn’t been the case in over a century. The party system, party leaders, and platforms confuse the matter. 

            The public expects to know what they are getting before they vote.

            Just as often they are motivated to vote for a specific party rather than an individual MP. Maybe they like the leader. Maybe they like the platform.

            In order ot make a fully informed choice, one that confers complete democratic legitimacy, the voter should know the intentions of all the political players ahead of election day.

          •  You expect people to read beyond using Harper and honesty in the same sentence?

          • Legalistic or not it is also factual, and facts not moral arguments matter constitutionally speaking. Dion’s argument was classically correct – it was not simply his argument by the way, if that was an attempt to simply make it a matter of opinion – it is constitutionally correct.
            There is of course a moral argument and anyone is free to make it during the campaign. The voters are free to make up their minds or insist on transparency from their party if they fear their options will be removed after the fact. But that in no way entittles the electorate to insist on an interpretation of the rules that is incorrect. They can say no despite the convention if they choose to.Process matters! 
            Harper should have known this. In all likeihood he did. Which makes him a demagogue in my book; someone who pretends process is malleable and illegitimate when it suits his purpose. Lots of politician all throughout our history have been capable of this, but only one and arguably two have actually acted on it.

            I should add an important caveat. If you lie about your intention or promise not to form a coalition under any circumstances you have obviously forgone the right to hide behind constitutional coventions.

          • @kcm2:disqus 
            Consitutionality would only have mattered had Harper fallen short of a majority and the GG was called upon to make a decision.

            Fair play is what matters with the voters.

            You say everyone is free to make a moral argument ?

            That’s what Harper was doing. Why is that then demagoguery ?

            You say voters aren’t entittled to know people’s intentions.


            They decided they are.

            And they witheld their votes from the Liberals for not respecting that right.

          • JD

            This is what i said:

            The voters are free to make up their minds or insist on transparency from their party if they fear their options will be removed after the fact. But that in no way entittles the electorate to insist on an interpretation of the rules that is incorrect.

            It is also what i was referring to when i mentioned demagoguery.Harper must have known this.

            If you are going to start mischaracterizing what i said debate over.

            Harper had a minority if you remember. But you make my point as to your other attempt to link the prorogation and Dion’s attempt to grab the reins legally. The final decision would have been the GGs to make. Presumably he would have had to consider factors like the liberals being nowhere near the CPC seat count, not even with the help of the ndp.
            I have no idea why Dion didn’t consider the possibility that the GG might well have simply called an election anyway – for that matter i don’t know why it didn’t occur to Harper either? 

          • @375ab061cd26220784d9015004f5bbf3:disqus I have no intention of mischaracterizing anything.

            I was simply pointing out that voters will be the judge of what information they are and are not entitled to. And in fact that they create their own constitutional reality based on how they vote and the opinions they express.

            There is a bidrectional relationship between the crown and the people and to some extent popular views have always been taken into account when making these choices.   

            I assume when you say

            “But that in no way entittles the electorate to insist on an interpretation of the rules that is incorrect”

            you mean to say that there is no legal requirement for the GG to take into account whether voters were told in advance on election day whether the party leaders were planning coalitions.

            When worded this way I will agree with you.

            But we can all express views on how we think the GG should act.

            That includes Mr. Harper.

            Even if those views are contrary to the majority views of constitutional lawyers.

            That doesn’t make him a demagogue or mean he’s diservicing Canadians.

            I agree with his interpretation and if I were GG I would send any opposition back to the polls to test the popularity of their coalition before allowing it.

            In some way you seem to agree that there is an issue here when you say 

            “If you lie about your intention or promise not to form a coalition under any circumstances you have obviously forgone the right to hide behind constitutional coventions”

          • Legalistic – the ultimate deadly sin for the current government. 

          • Did you protest or complain about prorogation ?

            It was perfectly legal.

            Did Dion do no service to Canadians to complain about prorogation being used to avoid a non-confidence motion ?

            Politicians make moral arguments all the time. Our system is based on convention and an understanding that all players are motivated by good faith.

            All of which is open to interpertation and invites us to pontificate on what we consider acceptable.

            Harper talks to Canadians, not consittutional lawyers.

            It may anger them that the view of the public is closer to his than theirs but it makes his remarks no less valuable.

          • Now you’re conflating legal with constitutional convention.

            The convention clearly said the opposition could ask to form a govt in 08. This is a fact.The fact that there was a moral/legimacy argument to be made against this at the time does not invalidate the convention…we would continue to have elections.

            Why did Dion do us a disservice? It was plain to just about everyone that Harper was missusing prorogation to avoid a N/C vote. You seem to be implying that Dion was obviously as blatently missusing a perfectly legimate CC in order to upset an electoral result he didn’t like. Even if it was that simple he misused nothing, the rule was there precisely for such an eventuallity.

            Your analogy doesn’t hold up.And your conclusion is close to a call for populist politics trumping the rule of law     

          • “Did Dion do no service to Canadians to complain about prorogation being used to avoid a non-confidence motion ?”

            You seem to have misunderstood my original remark:

            But Harper did no service to the country when he continued to lie to the country last election, insisting that only the party who wins the most seats may govern.

            This referred not to 08, but to the last election when Harper tried that argument and was called out on it by those who actually knew how the system worked.

          • @375ab061cd26220784d9015004f5bbf3:disqus the term “convention” and the rule of law are rather seperate things. I am not conflating them, in fact my entire argument rests on the difference between them.  

            We can argue whether or not a given convention exists.

            This seems to be what you are doing with Mr. Harper.

            However, we can also  argue whether or not that particular convention should exist in the first place. We can put forward alternative views on what we believe the convention should be.

            Ultimately the GG is the referee of all of this.

            But it doesn’t mean Harper is a demagogue or he’s lying to Canadians when he puts foward his views on what governments are legitimate or not and how the GG should behave.

            The only way he would be lying or would be guilty of doing all the things you accuse him of is if he was saying the following:

            The current constitutional convention regarding this matter is that for a coaliiton to take place the leaders must have discussed it with the populace in advance of their having voted.

            Everything else is just putting forward your own interpretation.

          • He talks to some Canadians.  You should remind him of that.

        • “For a coalition to be legitimate in the sense of having a popular
          mandate it is incumbent upon the parties to do the following BEFORE an
          election ends:

          Outline under what conditions you’d enter into a coalition and with who.”

          You’re making up rules as you go along here and may need a little revisionist history to buttress that assertion. How many elections can you point to in Canada where that question was asked and answered before votes were cast?

        • The main problem with the coalition was that the separatists were an integral part of it. Although the Liberals and NDP both tried to downplay that fact, it was obvious to anyone who could count: the coalition would have been hostage to the Bloc, point finale.

    • Con spin comes with a neon light feature.  Only the blind could miss it.

  3. Globe editorial is exactly what’s wrong with Canadian msm/society. Globe significantly more concerned about style than substance and comes across like schoolmarm who is grading our manners and comportment. Globe thinks it is Miss Manners to the nation. Broadbent was impertinent compared to our normal milquetoast Canadian debates but he thinks his party is going to hell in handcart if Mulcair wins. I don’t agree with Broadbent but he should be encouraged to speak his thoughts, not scolded. 

    Mulcair might not have sparkling personality but he’s a winner – Topp is not clubbable either, he’s an odd duck apparently just like Mulcair, and has no proven track record. If Topp is such a colossal candidate party can’t do without, why isn’t Topp running in Tor-Danforth? Topp has no commitment to party, does not relish the fight, I would not support Topp if I was dipper because he’s dilettante. 

    I read blogger Dan Hodges at Daily Telegraph who writes about Labour Party issues and recently he’s been writing about how unions are trying to overtake party and alter culture away from New Labour/Tony Blair crowd. Is NDP toronto brain trust beholden to unions, while candidates outside Ontario are not nearly indebted to unions? Do Topp and Nash represent union interests and Mulcair wants to move away from them – it is similar debate Labour party has – modernizers v socialists.

  4. I am wondering if NDPers are hoping for an outcome where Mr. Muclair wins but Mr. Topp continues to give his all as an organizer, and if the hope is that is the best of both worlds for the party? 

  5. Nit picking, but isn’t Cullen only proposing cooperation of some kind[ i believe he prefers a unity candidate] before the election with the goal of changing the electoral system, but no coaltion after? This is the reason i like him. I believe the centre/centre left has to swollow its pride and work toward pulling down Harper but not of course ending conservative future options. I’m not sure unity candidates are necessary across the board or indeed practical. I also agree with Heathy[?] his campaign mamager when he says the only way to form a progressive consensus in the country is with a strong federal option in Quebec – otherwise Tories win by default, which seems to be Harper’s preferred option.  
    I should add i simply like the guy. He represents a possibility of a more consensus, less overtly partisan politics in this country along with people like Nenshi. I can’t see Mulcair offering the same.Just more of the same. He may even prove to be as contentious and myopic a leader in his own way as SH – only from a left centre perspective.  

    *edit…grumble grumble…i see now it says formal cooperation…bloody English language, it’s in love with distinctions.

    • It’s impossible for a party to govern after the election if it doesn’t run candidates in dozens of ridings. Cooperation between parties after the election — in a coalition — is assumed by the decision to cooperate before it. 

      As always, I wonder whether I should state my general position on coalitions. They’re obviously a legitimate way to govern. I think the future for non-Conservatives looks a lot more like Cullen’s plan than most Liberals or New Democrats care, for now, to admit. But the coalition that was put before the population in 2008 was so rickety and claptrap that it collapsed under its own absurdity, and a good thing too.

      •  then again, nothing succeeds like success.  We’ll never know if we wouldn’t have seen two years of decent government as the agreement called for.  The worst that could have happened is that they’re would have been another election.

        •  *THERE* would have been another election. yeesh.

      • “Cooperation between parties after the election — in a coalition — is assumed by the decision to cooperate before it.”

        Ah but would that have to be a formal coalition?

        This isn’t my plan or remotely my area of expertise so you seem to have got me there…or have you? Presumeably there would be other options to a long period of coalition govt? Perhaps a promise of a national referendum on ER. And if cooperation was only where a vote split was obvious and on a strictly limited seat by seat basis, would that have to boil down to a formal coalition after the fact? If as you say it does then why not go for a formal coalition before?
        A lot of my support rests on the reality that a lot of old time dippers and libs detest one another and perhaps a brief affair followed by a parting of the ways is the only short term [ 2015] realistic option?

        You’re no doubt right about 08…but what if a braver man than MI [or more experienced] had said yes and grabbed at the keys to 24 Sussex? Sigh…still, there’s no guarantee the GG would have not said election…then we all know what probably would have happened?
        Or maybe SH would have succeeded from the union…er conferederation if she had tossed the keys over?

  6. “…but Cullen is another kind of realist: He would rather advertise a scheme to govern with Liberals before an election, rather than admitting afterward that that was the plan all along, as Layton and Brian Topp did a month after the 2008 election”

    Well at least we wouldn’t have to go through another bout of Harper running around with a look of incredulous loathing on his face again…’ My god they’re at it again! Forming an illegimate coalition! To arms! To arms my country men!’

    In fact doing as Harper insists and putting it right out there, hiding in plain sight might well what’s called for? Indeed the public reaction may not be quite as outraged as Harper hopes it would be, given enough time and some good salesmanship.  

  7. I don’t know much about Mulcair, but I love that description of the Globe’s editorial board.