The Commons: As good a guess as any - Macleans.ca

The Commons: As good a guess as any

The first sound Thomas Mulcair made when he reached the lectern was a sigh

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Frank Gunn/CP Images

At 7:49pm Eastern Standard Time in Toronto, Thomas Mulcair had to use the facilities. One last bathroom break before destiny.

On his way to the men’s room, down the second-floor hallway strewn with the bodies of the faithful, everyone so very tired, Mr. Mulcair passed within maybe three feet of Brian Topp, the only other remaining candidate conferring then with his campaign manager in a relatively secluded corner. The two contenders did not appear to acknowledge other.

A necessary amount of time later, Mr. Mulcair emerged from the bathroom and proceeded back down the hallway. Once again the two candidates passed within feet of each other. If they acknowledged each other, it was fleeting. Mr. Mulcair went on back to his headquarters. Mr. Topp sat on a table and talked with one of his aides for awhile. No jacket, right hand resting on hip.

At 8:02pm, from the far end of the hall, the sound of drums rang out and a clapping, gyrating throng of supporters from Team Mulcair emerged. Dancing their way down the hall, they proceeded to the escalator positioned in front of the Team Topp headquarters and then down to the subterranean convention hall on the basement floor. A smattering of Mr. Topp’s supporters watched the heaving mob. Some raised their hands and clapped along as the likely victors marched towards the final confirmation.

The moment was soon at hand. And then, of course, it was announced that the results would be delayed by an hour.

***

A long seven months ended with a long day. A curious race culminated in a fraught vote. A party haunted by the spectres of Jack Layton and Stephen Harper—wondering about how to follow the former, fretting about how to match the latter—guessed on Thomas Mulcair.

It is never anything more than a guess. And this is probably as good a guess as any.

Of the seven candidates on offer, five seemed like they might be on to something. None were perfect. Or even obviously superior. Paul Dewar was wonderfully endearing, but ultimately lacked votes. And also an ability to speak fluently en francais. Peggy Nash might have had a case, but ran out of time to make it. Nathan Cullen had a crazy idea and got further with it than one would’ve imagined. Brian Topp knew everything there was to know. Except how to look and sound the part. And maybe he would’ve figured that out too. But New Democrats apparently weren’t willing to guess that he would. The hordes that filled the room with their signs and t-shirts seemed to personify their candidates. The Dewar cheerleaders were earnest. The Nash crowd chanted urgently. The Cullen supporters were giddy, so glad to be here. The Topp crowd was subdued, almost cerebral in their pep (or lack thereof).

The Mulcair throng was professional. At least so far as these cheering mobs go. And the going guess when this weekend began was that Mr. Mulcair was the likely winner and the proper choice. In the short term, the experts guessed right. In the long term, it is anyone’s guess. Mr. Mulcair is a solid-looking man, bearded and nicknamed for a bear. He can talk fast (sometimes too fast) and loud. He will relish the opportunity to rise in the House each afternoon and be seen standing up to Mr. Harper. He knows how this works. He has shown that he can win. But then so did Michael Ignatieff and so did Stephane Dion. But then again, so did Jack Layton and so did Stephen Harper. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all down to something like luck or chance. Or at least the odds that the sitting government becomes engulfed in a profound and outrageous scandal.

***

Approximately 20 minutes after 9pm, the president of the party proudly shouted his name as the next prime minister of Canada. The celebration commenced. The candidates and the caucus gathered on stage. The family circled round. It was all clapping and hugs and handshakes. Even for Ed Broadbent.

The first sound he made when he reached the lectern was a sigh. “Tous Ensemble,” he said soon thereafter, a chant Michael Ignatieff once hung his candidacy on. What followed was not roaring. More like a lecture. Read by a professor who wanted to get through this. And who had a lot to do. As, suddenly, Mr. Mulcair does.

There was a bit of poetry. About how the community centres and union halls of this land may not be as grand as the Parliament buildings, but that what goes on within is so vital to our democracy. But the most rousing bit might’ve been a nod something his late predecessor said. “As Jack Layton said, our greatest accomplishment on May 2 wasn’t winning seats in Parliament,” Mr. Mulcair recounted. “Our greatest accomplishment on May 2 was giving people a reason to believe…”

The crowd’s cheers drowned out his attempt to finish that sentence.

***

Nathan Phillips Square is just concrete now. There is nothing written there. The words have long since washed away. And what’s left is what was there before that remarkable week in August when Jack Layton became something immortal. And now Mr. Mulcair must carry on.

After he had promised not to “demonize” the NDP’s opponents, he disappeared backstage. He emerged to find the cameras waiting. Under the steel bleachers then began a slow, quiet procession, Mr. Mulcair flanked by his family, surrounded by men in suits, the cameramen and producers walking backwards in front of him. Slowly but surely the new leader of the opposition walked into the lights.