The problem with partisan punches

The NDP has a seemingly fluid stance on party leaders with dual citizenship


The kerfuffle over Thomas Mulcair’s dual citizenship illustrates one the biggest problems with our political discourse today: too much time taking cheap shots, not enough time focusing on the problems facing Canadians. Or: too much time taking cheap shots, not enough time tending to your own backyard. I’m a partisan hack, so either will do.

You’ll never hear me say that partisan politics is bad. It’s good for people to be reminded of the things that politicians do and say. We should be electing people who represent the best of us, so it’s important that we hold our politicians to a certain standard. Plus, partisan politics has often paid my bills. By all means, keep on keeping on.

Hypocrisy, though, is a different story. If you’re going to make a fuss about something, the least you can do is make sure you’re not guilty of the same transgressions, or be adequately prepared to deal with the fall-out when the same accusations are hurled back.

Opposition research – when done well – provides some juicy pieces of information to knock your opponent off message. While they’re trying to scramble back, you get the opportunity to fill the void with your own message. In an ideal world, that message would be something meaningful, but the structure of our news cycle usually means partisans are reinforcing the spin that got them the opening to speak in the first place.

Case in point: in 2008, then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion was dogged throughout the election campaign after it was revealed he holds dual French and Canadian citizenships. When asked about this, then-NDP Leader Jack Layton said: “I would prefer that a leader of a party hold only Canadian citizenship, because one represents many Canadians, and for me that means that it’s better to remain the citizen of one country.”

Journalists asked other NDP MPs—Tony Martin, quote machine Pat Martin, and Peter Stoffer—what they thought about Dion’s dual citizenship, and all three toed the party line. It should also be noted that there was a distinction made between “leader” and “deputy leader,” by Mr. Layton, who could not have been ignorant of the fact that Mr. Mulcair—the NDP’s co-deputy leader at the time—did in fact also hold dual citizenship.

What will folks say now, when we’re all again reminded that what goes around comes around? Nobody can find any NDP MPs willing to agree with what Mr. Layton said. Rest assured that should Mr. Mulcair be elected NDP leader, the Conservatives will have a field day with the issue of his dual citizenship. Members of the NDP have watched TV. They saw what was said about Michael Ignatieff for living outside Canada, and what was said about his Hungarian-born wife, Zsuzsanna, for not yet having Canadian citizenship. For what it’s worth, the NDP is smart enough to realize that any statements by their MPs criticizing Mr. Mulcair will also play into these Conservative attacks.

I’m hopeful that having dealt with this kind of mudslinging at their own leader, the Liberals will continue to say they have no problem with party leaders holding dual citizenship. I’ll refrain from guessing as to whether or not Canadians agree with that sentiment, but likely this is an issue that will only echo inside the Ottawa bubble.  Most people have their own lives to worry about.


The problem with partisan punches

  1. Attacking someone’s citizenship should have no place in Canadian politics and people and parties who do it should cease to do so. 

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • Because they have something intelligent to say?

      • This comment was deleted.

        • Macleans also has more than enough idiotic conservative commenters here, so you’re a little redundant yourself.  Turd.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • The turd speaks:

            bon appétit

          • She didn’t say staffers, why so sensitive? 

          • It’s only “idiotic” if you disagree with it.

        • Why would they abandon this site to partisan idiot bickering? Don’t you have the Post for that?

          • This comment was deleted.

          • Sounds like the Post comment boards alright.

            cartoon life dougsamu.wordpress.com

        • You didn’t get the Political Editor job, Paul Wells did. 

        • Yeah, anyone with anything intelligent to say, go say it somewhere else. Turd Ferguson needs this space for all the stupid he wants to spurt.

        • Funny, I made a comment on SunMedia and holimn told me to get back to Macleans.  You guys are like a bunch of meter maids. 

    • Click, flush, problem solved, no more turds.

  3. The above is an almost perfectly distilled example of the thinking that has turned the Liberal party from juggernaught to junk. Most Canadians, it is true, have multiple identities: Canadian, French, English, Western, Eastern, [insert nationality], secular humanist or whatever. Because these identities often conflict, as do the interests of the groups they represent. To say that this is slandering immigrants, or whatever, misses the point. It is absolutely legitimate for voters to look for clues as to how somebody will govern (eg. their religion). 

    The Liberals used to understand that. Time was, Liberals couldn’t say Mulroney without muttering something like “that Reagan-rogering American” under their breath. And they may have had a point. I think the case for free trade is strong on its merits, but that doesn’t mean Mulroney – inured to Americans from his youth in a US-run company town – made the decision entirely on that basis. 

    I don’t think it is much of a stretch to suggest, either, that Michael Ignatieff sees himself as a sort of cosmopolitan westerner, in addition to being Canadian. And there are issues where those two Ignatieffs could and did come to blows. The attacks on Dion and Mulcair, by contrast, are much weaker. Their citizenship was incidental, rather than intentional. Both have displayed much interest in Canada, and little in France – nor do Canadian and French interests often come into conflict. 

    Citizenship, residence, and associations are potential clues to about which identities people revere most. Would you not say Harper’s decision to move to Alberta (even though he was admitted to U of T) says something about him, and his preferences? What of John Charest’s decision to go by the name Jean? Or, for a US example, Jimmy Carter’s religion? To pretend that this stuff doesn’t matter to voters, or to ignore it is willfully stupid from a practical political standpoint, and a dubious moral cause, to say the least. 

    • I think you’ll find that Mulcair’s citizenship was intentional.

      • Please explain.

      • It was intentional but not meaningful, if you buy his story. At an airport in Madrid he was separated from his family, because he had a different passport from them. So he applied for French citizenship, which he could get pretty easily having a French spouse. Mulcair’s passport is purely one of convenience, and not something I’d read into very deeply. 

        (on the other hand, his wife ran as a candidate in French elections*, so, ironically, his French citizenship could have been adopted to enable her political career)

        *and as a candidate of the right

  4. This comment was deleted.

    • Please go “come” somewhere else. Who’s in charge of your phishing expedition?

  5. I prefer those that have something to say about this topic are Canadian citizens. That’s only a preference.

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