The Commons: Thomas Mulcair tries to look and sound the part - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Thomas Mulcair tries to look and sound the part

The NDP leader waxes poetic about “best practices”

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The NDP leader’s tie was a combination of black, grey and orange stripes. This was possibly coincidental, but the placard propped up on an easel behind him followed the same colour pattern: “Leaders Summit 2013” emblazoned beneath three maple leaves, one black, one grey and one orange.

Placards and colour coordination are the hallmarks of professionalism in modern politics. Rarely does the Prime Minister appear anywhere without a blue sign hanging in front of him on which is written the two or three words that we are supposed to commit to our subconscious that day. (In Mr. Harper’s ideal world the first words that would come to mind upon seeing his face or hearing his voice would be “jobs,” growth” and “long-term prosperity.”) The New Democrats have picked up on this trick and now have their own placards. Today’s was more of a sign, as if to demonstrate that here was an important thing happening—please note that what is going on beyond this sign and behind those doors is of such a serious nature that a sign is required to indicate as much.

The gathering in this case—the nation’s provincial and federal NDP leaders meeting on Parliament Hill to ruminate and be seen to be ruminating —was some combination of a first ministers’ conference and a corporate retreat.

“The NDP is very proud of its track record of prudent public administration in the five provinces and the territory where it has been in power. And that’s what we’re going to be doing today. Sharing best practices. Looking at the best way forward. Sharing ideas for the future of Canada based on better cooperation between the provinces and the federal government.”

Prudent public administration and sharing best practices: Mr. Mulcair seems to like to talk like this. It is possibly helpful for the purposes of not sounding like a hippy socialist who will spend the entirety of the defence budget on fair trade espresso beans for his friends in the union.

“The main conversations are being led by very strong, capable NDP premiers,” Mr. Mulcair reported of Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who were due to make presentations. “It also reminds people that the NDP has been in power. We have a very good track record, going all the way back to Tommy Douglas’ 17 years in a row of balanced budgets in Saskatchewan, but more recently in Manitoba, 10 years in a row of balanced budgets.”

And before dinner tonight at Stornoway, the leaders will gather on Sparks Street to burn Bob Rae in effigy.

“I’ll give you an example, a lot of people are surprised when I use it: in Manitoba, the tax rate for small businesses is zero percent. That’s because small businesses are the ones that create jobs. So that’s an explanation for why Manitoba has such a low unemployment rate and it’s doing so well,” he said. “So these are ideas that we can build on. We can look at targeting and we do have fiscal levers that we want to actuate. We can target those areas of the economy that create jobs, not give the type of across-the-board tax cut, for example, to the richest corporations that the Conservatives did that didn’t create jobs.”

But, someone asked, won’t Justin Trudeau be here soon to ruin everything for you? “I’ll deal with whoever the Liberals choose as their leader on a substantive level. These are important issues that we’re dealing with across Canada right now, socially, economically, environmentally. We’ll deal with them substantively. We’ll deal with them as issues that deserve to be treated, not with a slogan, not with a catchphrase, but with solid analysis. That’s what this meeting is about.”

Mind you, “substantive, solid analysis” is a sort of catchphrase itself. Though perhaps not a very catchy one.

The Conservatives, of course, were already unimpressed, sending out a memo to the press gallery before the meeting had even really begun to inform reporters that the real theme of today’s gathering was “How To Take More Money From Canadians.” By the governing party’s account, the New Democrats are mostly concerned with “wasteful” and “reckless” and “job-killing” initiatives that would gravely imperil the country’s economy.

After Mr. Mulcair had finished up and after the assembled leaders had posed on risers for an official-looking photo, Mr. Dexter, the first New Democrat to lead a government in Atlantic Canada, was brought before the cameras and asked about the attacks Mr. Mulcair must overcome if he is to govern the country.

“Well, I dealt with everyday in Nova Scotia for years. I was the leader of the opposition for eight years. I went through governments who said the NDP would be an economic disaster and all of those kind of hyperbolic references. And the reality is that’s not true,” Mr. Dexter testified. “We have in the last three and a half years dealt with a period of time in our history that has seen the greatest recessionary pressure since the Great Depression and I would argue that in my province we’ve managed every bit as well as the the other provinvce in the federation, and perhaps better than some.”

Indeed, it would surely help Mr. Mulcair’s cause if Mr. Dexter and Mr. Selinger (and perhaps soon Adrian Dix in British Columbia) could provide supporting evidence between now and 2015.

“I think any party that’s on the centre-left almost anywhere in the world you see that kind of rhetoric,” the Premier said, next offering something of a political science lecture on the nature of political perception. “To some degree, of course, we do stake out the ground around social programs and around promoting what we consider to be the national fabric of the country. And, in the past, haven’t spent as much time talking about those questions associated with economic matters … When people have traditionally looked for and have had concerns going into elections about things like the fabric of their society, they have tended to vote for parties on the left. And when they were dramatically concerned about matters of the economy, they have tended to vote for parties on the right. I think it’s important though for us to demonstrate that although the lions share of compassion has been on the side of the NDP for many, many years, we also have to demonstrate that with it we are capable of managing the economy, managing the finances of our province or the country and that these things are not mutually exclusive.”

So more talk about best practices and public administration then. And perhaps the NDP leader could spend the next three years carrying around a sandwich board that read “Fiduciary Seriousness.”