The power of Tolkien and a good cup of coffee

The secret weapons of NDP leadership hopefuls

Photography by Mitchel Raphael

Conservatives watching every word

During a 2006 Liberal leadership debate, Michael Ignatieff told Stéphane Dion he “didn’t get the job done.” The phrase was picked up as a Conservative attack repeated so often in the House that even Tory cabinet ministers grew sick of saying it, which prompted Stephen Harper to remind them that it was only when they were sick of saying it was it actually penetrating into the general public. These days, Nathan Cullen is thinking a lot about the single wrong phrase that could hang over the heads of NDP leadership hopefuls. “You want to be careful, but at the same time, if you are not ready for sound-bite politics you are not ready for the big time,” he says.

One of the lessons he’s learned from his campaign so far has been the importance of how “you have to focus and not allow drama to enter your inner team.” It was something he read in a book Jack Layton gave him, The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory by David Plouffe. These days, Cullen is tackling The Lord of the Rings in French. He has read the books several times in English and says one of the best ways to improve language skills is to read familiar books. Some of the characters’ names have been changed a bit in French. Cullen adds that if during one of the NDP debates there is a Lord of the Rings question in French then he has the leadership “in the bag.” (Or is that Baggins?)

Thomas Mulcair’s secret weapon

If he becomes the next leader of the NDP, candidate Thomas Mulcair has a secret weapon he says he’ll bring with him to the office of the leader of the Opposition. “I have the best espresso on the Hill,” says Mulcair, revealing his secret to be a Nespresso coffee machine, for which he has had nothing but glowing reviews. In fact, he suspects that friendly visits to his current office are sometimes more to use his coffee machine than to speak with him. Mulcair recently held a campaign event in Toronto at which he was introduced by Toronto NDP MP Dan Harris, who ran three times before getting elected. The MP for Scarborough Southwest brought along his father, David Harris, who has been involved in the NDP’s local riding association since 1979. Father says of son: “He got brought along to all the riding association meetings as a little guy.” High-profile Ontario NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo was in the audience. DiNovo is backing Peggy Nash for leadership but said she wanted to hear what Mulcair had to say because voting for a new NDP federal leader is by preferential ballot, so the order of choices is key to determining the final outcome. Also attending was Mulcair’s childhood friend, well-known opera tenor John Mac Master, who treated the crowd to O Canada.

Campaigning in the Devil’s Hole

NDP leadership hopeful Niki Ashton says affordable housing is the issue she hears about repeatedly as she crosses the country. The book she has been reading while campaigning is The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Highlights of her campaign so far have been visiting Bistro-Bar Brise-Bise in Gaspé, Que., where she said she had a spectacular view of the area, which she’d never been to before. Then there was the internationally acclaimed beer she enjoyed at Le Trou du Diable (Devil’s Hole) in Shawinigan, Que. On the weather front, campaigning on B.C.’s Saltspring Island (in Green party Leader Elizabeth May’s riding) provided some welcome relief from the cold winter she’s endured in most of the other parts of the country where she’s been campaigning.

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