Let me say this to all Canadians: Hello mom - Macleans.ca

Let me say this to all Canadians: Hello mom

Thomas Mulcair didn’t say much at the convention. But at least he said it fast.

Let me say this to all Canadians: Hello mom

CP; iStock; Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

With the candidates and their supporters packed tightly into bleachers, chanting and cheering, it felt like an old-time political gathering. Volunteers handed out scarves and signs in support of the contenders. Hospitality suites were crammed with booze and bodies. Loyalists of Brian Topp were made to wear tiny top hats, even though this made them look like oversized organ-grinder monkeys.

But this pageantry and hat head were for nothing. Most New Democrats who’d be choosing the party’s next leader had voted before the convention even began. Thomas Mulcair could have used his 20 minutes of stage time before the first ballot to repeatedly punch a cat in the face—and still he would have won the leadership. As a bonus, smacking around a kitty would have earned him less hostility and criticism than he took for his speeches.

Mulcair’s performance during the candidates’ showcase began with a line of drummers snaking its way through the hall. This was meant to go on for three minutes. It went on for 10 because, hey, who doesn’t love an interminable drum solo, right? Suddenly up against the clock, Mulcair could have chosen to pare his remarks—but clearly the man didn’t want to deprive us of a single syllable of genius. And so out came the words, fast and then faster. Sweat formed along his brow and down his nose. By the end, Mulcair sounded like a guy reciting a legal disclaimer at the end of a radio commercial. No one remembered a word of it.

A day later, in victory, Mulcair was given a second chance to make a first impression on many Canadians.

The vanquished moved to the stage. Topp, the runner-up, looked as though his dog had just been run over. Ed Broadbent, an outspoken critic of Mulcair, looked as though he was Brian Topp’s dog. As Jack Layton’s successor arrived at the podium, the TV cameras found third-place finisher Nathan Cullen at the side of the stage. He was fiddling with his BlackBerry. NDP unity fever—CATCH IT!

The first five minutes of Mulcair’s acceptance speech were devoted to thank yous. In any campaign, many are owed a debt—and public gestures of appreciation are a key currency of politics. But even here, the address had its odd moments. Mulcair gently ridiculed the labour-inspired NDP tradition of referring to one another as “brothers and sisters.” He carefully followed a written text in issuing words of thanks to his relatives. And then came this line, delivered in French but translated on TV: “To my mother—my Mom, who with her brothers and sisters is up north watching us: Hello.”

Should Mulcair fail over the course of his leadership to develop a common touch and connect with Canadians, these four words may serve as his political epitaph: “To my Mom: Hello.”

Mulcair then got to the meat of his speech. It made for tough chewing. He said things like “Young people are active in their community groups.” He said things like “Leadership comes in many forms.” Mulcair spoke with all the dynamism and charm of an economics professor, his face buried in his text. Voters of Canada, the NDP would like to introduce you to its new leader: the top of this guy’s head!

Did Mulcair take on the Harper government? Not really. Did he make a case for why more Canadians should support the NDP? He did not. Did he attempt to rally the thousands of faithful who’d spent money and effort and 12 hours of their time on Saturday alone in service to the party and its future? Not even a little bit.

Ten minutes in, the crowd was starved for something to cheer. Mulcair said, “Our future is limitless if we get our priorities right.” A few in the audience clapped, prompting Mulcair to glance up from the page. He seemed genuinely startled. Whoa, how did all these people get in my room?

The speech moved toward its conclusion. The NDP leader spoke of “human capacity” and “human innovation.” (Tough break, animals.) The crowd stood still and silent. They braced themselves for what seemed inevitable—Mulcair concluding his inaugural address by reciting his footnotes and bibliography.

After 15 minutes, Thomas Mulcair finished talking at his audience and looked up, smiling broadly. Clearly, in his mind, a connection had been made. It’s a connection that can best be summed up with the heartfelt words: “To the voters of Canada: Hello.”


Let me say this to all Canadians: Hello mom

  1. It was a weak speech, no doubt about that. The mind boggles why he wouldn’t use the opportunity to get the crowd fired up and send a warning to Harper that he’s coming for him.

    On the other hand, Mulcair has conducted himself extremely impressively in the media scrum and media interviews he has done since. His responses are short, sharp, articulate, prepared and always bring up an interesting angle about the problem he’s discussing. Mulcair really does come off in those instances like the most “Prime Ministerial” of any of the party heads, including Harper. Following the budget, Rae was completely overshadowed by Mulcair’s competency.

  2. Although I have not voted NDP in my entire life, Mulcair has got my attention.  I am watching to see how he reacts in parliament and on to the next election.  Trudeau, Mulroney, and Critchean were all for Ontario and particularly Quebec – Harper came along and definitely favours Alberta and the west.  I believe we need a strong leader that cares for all Canada.  Is Mulcair the man?  I don’t know at this time.

  3. I don’t understand why macleans publishes you or barbara amiel. The obituary that follows you is often more entertaining. 

    • That’s what my relatives tell me.

  4. Scott –

    Thoroughly enjoyed this and your other article on, uhhh, Tony Clement, I think.  Just wanted to say thanks.

    If you want ‘constructive criticism’: keep up the good, ditch the bad.

  5. Well, it’s funny because it’s true. As a New Democrat who wants to see Mulcair do well, I’m grateful for columns and commentary like this, because the point needs to be made.

    Mulcair did many things right in his campaign, and seemed quite satisfied with the overall strategy, as well he should be. But the kudos shouldn’t drown out the lessons that need to be learned; to be an effective and successful leader, he really needs to look at what went poorly, and learn from it.

    Mulcair’s pre-vote “showcase” was marred not only by the rapid-fire speech (rushed due to poor planning) — but also by the candidate video, which was poorly filmed and edited, with overexposed footage to make some hostage videos look good.

    And yes, the victory speech was flat and failed to hit the right notes, even where some of the “right notes” were completely obvious: strong and sincere praise for opponents, a convincing assertion of unity, and a clear appeal to party’s core principles and its opposition to Harper. The party had prepared a speech segment to do exactly that; why did Mulcair make the poor decision to turn down their help? 

    Other clear problems were the choice not to use a tele-prompter for either speech, and poor balance between French and English: sometimes taking too long in one language, and sometimes switching languages mid-thought — thus tripping up both translators and news editors in search of sound bites.

    By comparison, Topp’s showcase, video and speech were professional, effective and well-planned.

    All that said, I think Mulcair has done extremely well post-convention, especially in one-on-one interviews and media scrums. The good news is that he is excelling at what are normally the harder skills to learn. By comparison, it should be relatively easy to do good set speeches and media materials — you just need the right people to help you.

    Mulcair would do well to hire whoever did this for Layton — including Brian Topp and his team.

  6. As for Mr. Mulcair eventually pulverizing Stephen Harper:  “Softly, softly chatchee monkey.”  Meaning, no need to let all the dogs out at the starting gate.  As for Scott Feschuk – you are screamingly funny. You are a Canadian treasure.  Too bad Americans don’t know how to talk like this.  Television would be so much better — HEY! – Why don’t we think about some original Canadian programing, even a Canadian Network! ……..Wasn’t there a Canadian TV series called Intelligence, by Chris Haddock,  on the air for a few episodes, with a musical score by Schaun Tozer?  They heard about it Australia and other countries but Canadians didn’t get much chance to hear about it or view it.  – Madeline Bruce, Nanaimo, B. C.  

  7. I just about wet my pants from laughter when I saw the stunned kitty photo. OMG, this is a classic. Clipped and saved on the fridge! So, did the cat get a haircut and an NDP jersey, or wha?

  8. Scott, you will be in the Canadian Hall of Fame for funniest political commentary. I read your articles and laugh at human foibles. Who doesn’t loave a drum solo!

  9. idgf!


    Longtime fan and long-time NDP voter and you made me laugh so fucking hard.

    Great shit, I love you can swing right or left handed at any time.

    Good shit.