To win, Mulcair needs the full heft of the left -

To win, Mulcair needs the full heft of the left

Unlike Dion, Mulcair is not allergic to political strategy, effective staffing and artful rhetoric

To win, Mulcair needs the full heft of the left

Mike Cassese/Reuters

And suddenly the left is on a roll in Canada. Sort of. “Canada’s got a new leader,” an NDP ad says. “Tom Mulcair.” This is not strictly accurate—Canada has the same old leader and merely a new Opposition leader—but never mind.

“We started something special together,” Mulcair says in the ads, eyes glinting. “Now let’s get the job done.”

As if on cue, the polls are lining up to offer a semblance of support for the idea that getting the job done is possible. A Léger poll published April 7 found the NDP at 33 per cent Canada-wide, the Conservatives 32 per cent, and the Liberals down at 19 per cent. That’s an eight-point decline for the Conservatives since last year’s election.

Some 57 per cent of respondents said they’re dissatisfied with the Harper government, compared to 36 per cent who like it. Last month’s federal budget drew more unsatisfied reaction than satisfied, and respondents who associated themselves with “the left” outnumbered those sympathizing with “the right” everywhere except Ontario (where they tied) and the three Prairie provinces.

Those numbers don’t spell Conservative doom. They do suggest a non-Conservative alternative has a fighting chance. So too does another poll from Environics for the fledgling Broadbent Institute, which is dedicated to bankrolling polls that gladden the heart of one-time NDP leader Ed Broadbent. This one sure did the trick. It found majorities concerned about income inequality, willing to pay higher taxes to reduce inequality, and positively eager to watch the rich pay higher taxes to reduce income inequality.

So there’s potential traction for a larger-government alternative to the Conservatives. The more thoughtful people around Stephen Harper admit as much. They don’t think their man has shut down the political left, merely that he has managed to stay one step ahead of it while beginning to build a conservative alternative that can stay in the game for the long haul. More Canadians voted against the Conservatives last May 2 than for them. If those Canadians could unite behind one leader or party, Harper would be in trouble.

He does not act as though he thinks he’s in trouble. This is not the first time he has faced a former environment minister from Quebec. So much has changed since the last time it might as well be a whole new game.

Mulcair and Stéphane Dion would bristle at the comparison. First, their roles weren’t quite the same: Dion was a federal environment minister between the 2004 and 2006 elections, overlapping Mulcair’s tenure as Quebec’s environment minister by a bit more than a year. Second, they got along like bricks and fine china. Mulcair once declared that Dion was such a pill he could almost understand why the PQ disliked the guy so much.

Finally—and this may turn out to be an important difference—Mulcair has turned out to be less of a one-note Charlie on environmental issues. Mulcair has his rough edges and prickly moments, but unlike Dion he is not convulsively allergic to political strategy, effective staffing and the art of rhetoric.

But the two men are products of a culture and a set of assumptions. Mulcair speaks consistently in favour of pricing carbon emissions and has, nearly as consistently, criticized unfettered oil sands development. When Dion made similar sounds five years ago, Harper’s response was highly defensive. He put his best attacker, John Baird, into the environment portfolio. Baird called climate change “a huge concern” and came out with impressive-sounding plans for cuts to emissions. The plans never came to anything, but they sounded great.

Today Harper clearly thinks he has global environmentalists on the run. He has dismantled his government’s in-house climate analysis capacity, he’s shutting down arm’s-length advice from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, and he plans to clamp down on foreign financing of environmentalist groups in Canada. His current environment minister, Peter Kent, can hardly believe how lucky he is to help Harper get all this done.

If the population still believes the environment is worth a fight, such callous disregard for the pieties to which he once paid careful lip service will hurt Harper big time. But that’s a big “if.” Harper’s full-tilt promotion of oil sands development and natural-resource exports has so far caused much less public controversy than, say, his decision to prorogue Parliament unnecessarily at the start of 2010. Harper is betting that in a shaky economy most people will be in no mood to ask fancy questions about sustainability.

An important test of his faith is coming up. A bunch of Quebec labour unions, celebrities and environmental groups are organizing a rally in Montreal for April 22. Their online manifesto demands “that the Government of Canada participates fully in the Kyoto Protocol, that it intensifies the fight against climate change, and that it ceases all subsidies to oil and gas companies.”

The manifesto reads as though Tom Mulcair wrote it. The NDP leader has had a good month. He’s clearly a professional. To beat Harper, he needs issues that can rally active and broad support. I’ll offer no predictions, but whatever happens in Montreal on April 22 will tell much of the tale.


To win, Mulcair needs the full heft of the left

  1. “Harper’s full-tilt promotion of oil sands development and natural-resource exports has so far caused much less public controversy than, say, his decision to prorogue Parliament unnecessarily at the start of 2010.”

    Unless you count the various BC municipal politicians who’ve already lost their jobs over Northern Gateway, the 5 municipalities that have come out against it, and the 1,000s who’ve attended the various protests.

      • Given your status in the punditocracy, your flippancy re this issue is frankly a danger to national unity.  If Harper tries to thug his way through to Kitimmat people could actually get shot, and yet you sound like you’ll be sitting there with a smug grin on your face snapping your fingers to some kind of hideous free jazz while it happens.  It reminds me of 2006 when the CPoC first took over and you, the nation’s number one gun journo, abandoned the place for France so you could sit and eat snails on the West bank.

        • Paul Wells’s flippancy is a danger to national unity? 

          BCL, thanks for providing such a pristine example of the deluded arrogance, over-the-top hyperbole, and befuddled belligerence that has heralded the LPC’s descent from Natural Governing Party to Minor Regional Rump.

          • Please read comment above your’s.  The deluded arrogance, over-the-top hyperbole, and befuddled belligerence now belongs to Harper alone. 

        • Get help. 

          • Matt Price Gets It:
            In sum, the battle over the proposed Enbridge pipeline represents the clash of the new oil-driven Conservative coalition versus an unwilling province packed with people who have never been known to roll over and play dead. This will rock the country.
            The last time a political party in Ottawa used a “national interest” argument to impose its energy agenda on a province, it poisoned the well there for generations. 

          • OK, in my little seashore BC community last year, the Dept of Highways tried to hive off a very small piece of a waterfront park to make room for a traffic light including a left turn lane.  It would have placed traffic about twelve feet closer to the boardwalk that hundreds use every day and eliminate five park benches.  The population of about 2,000 managed to collect over 3,000 signatures petitioning the municipal government to refuse to allow it.  The council held several public meetings trying to explain their position, but the meetings turned into loud and sometimes angry protests.  The Dept of Highways bureaucrats were ridiculed.  These were simply local residents, not environmentalists.  This is a consituency that voted CPC last election.  All of the councilors involved with the decision were voted out of office in November, even though they reversed their decision prior to the election. 

            Now imagine some chance that a tanker or pipeline incident could result in bitumen sloshing around on our beaches or spoiling our forests and the reaction it would bring.  Now multiply that by hundreds or maybe thousands of small communities with similar concerns.  Add in jurisdictional issues with the First Nations people. 

            I agree with Bigcitylib; if Harper continues to act in a high handed manner on this issue, there is a high probability of violence in BC and an even higher probability that the CPC will be defeated in BC. 

  2. “Harper is betting that in a shaky economy most people will be in no mood to ask fancy questions about sustainability.”

    This statement encapsulates the matter:

    “Harper is betting” > this defines him as a “player” a gambler with Canadian’s future.

    “in a shaky economy most people” > Harper is willing to bet that a fear based dilemma will help keep people short sighted against Canadian’s best interests > “will be in no mood to ask fancy questions about sustainability”


    Why must the oil be extracted all at once, this moment? Why can’t it be left in the ground to accrue in value for future Canadians as we work out the details needed to properly and safely extract and transport this valuable dwindling resource? Who is benefiting? The Harper government? Certainly not Canadians, in neither the short or long run.


    He knows, as Chretien, Martin, and all the rest did, that once entrenched through continuous corruption, any party in power has an unfair advantage in our weakened Canadian parliamentary democracy.

    • “Why can’t Canadians muster the mental prowess to see this. Must be drunk and watching hockey too much, eh?”

      That, my friends, is the point.

  3. Let’s go folks, we need an ndp government so we can become another Greece.

    •  It was the corrupt right wing government of Greece which sold out to the international banksters.We must have a conservative dupe here; a revisionist who lies through their teeth to cheat people of the truth. They can easily be found out, though, because they are always snared by the words of their mouth.

  4. Seems to me his talk about things to attract folks in Ontario and Quebec is going to offend Westerners.  Also I suspect the Quebec NDPers will fade with time.

  5. “More Canadians voted against the Conservatives last May 2 than for
    them. If those Canadians could unite behind one leader or party, Harper
    would be in trouble.”

    He and the people on whom his political survival depends will make absolutely positively sure it never happens.  Think they won’t have their attack plan in place by then?

    “He does not act as though he thinks he’s in trouble.”

    Because he isn’t.  He just makes sure everyone assumes he is.  By the time the election rolls around, they’ve been lulled to sleep.  You think it won’t happen again?

  6. The left’s problem isn’t really with the pipeline. The problem is whose running it. If the federal government controlled the oil and gas companies that work the oil sands(like in Venezuela), the left would be far more accepting. Why don’t you do some reading up on how environmentally concerned Comrade Chavez is. The real issue is that the left hates the private sector. Its like the Green Party guy on TV the other night. He was speaking out against nuclear power. Yet, he said he would be far more comfortable with it if only the federal government ran it(because you couldn’t trust companies). Wow, what makes you think every bureaucrat is so freaking awesome? You know a lot of restaurants cook unhealthy meals. Maybe we should nationalize the food industry? Come on, the government could run every diner!

    P.S. Greece’s problems are mostly the fault of the left. The Socialists ruled from 1981-1990,1993-2004, and 2009-present.They were the ones who screwed with the pension systems, spent like drunken sailors,  and imposed draconian regulations in fields as diverse as pharmaceuticals(every pharmacy must have a minimum sq. footage, be no more than 1,500 ft from another, etc.) and authorized cab drivers( in some cases getting into the industryy can run over $100,000 much of it bribes).The opposition New Democracy is guilty of doing nothing to reform this system in their 8 total years. Also, I would point to Spain as another example. The Socialists from 1982-1996 and 2004-2012. The opposition conservative Popular Party ran the government for only 8 years. During this time, they took the unemployment rate from around 14% down to 8^ and the economy. They lost reelection because of the Madrid terrorists attacks which were in response to Spain’s involvement in Iraq. The Socialists came back into office and went on a wild spending spree(also really pushing green energy). They also tried to shore up their base by picking fights with the Catholic Church. The end result was a big debt and almost 23% unemployment.

  7. Hope he can do more for democracy and upholding the charter of rights and freedoms by giving people access to court and …. harpers government …. suspect them of past injustices.