Tom Mulcair and the Tar Messengers

Mulcair seems to believe Harper has the premiers of the western provinces waiting by the Harperphone

Sean Kilpatrick/CP Images

One obvious response to Tom Mulcair’s remarks about the Western premiers — apparently they are Stephen Harper’s “messengers” — is concern. If there’s, like, a messenger fight sometime, who’ll show up on Mulcair’s side? Probably not Jean Charest. He’s busy, and Mulcair quit his cabinet in a huff a few years ago. Dalton McGuinty? He seems unsteady on the matter at hand. PEI’s Rob Ghiz? Future McGuinty-in-law.

Meanwhile, Mulcair seems to believe, Harper has the premiers of the three western-most provinces waiting by the Harperphone (don’t ask; it’s black) for their instructions. “He’s not going to try to contest that,” he told Postmedia’s Peter O’Neil, in regard to Mulcair’s belief that resource exports are pushing the dollar up and ruining central Canada’s manufacturing base. “What he’s going to try to do is send in messengers to take that argument to me. I’m not responding to any of them… My argument is in the House of Commons with the federal prime minister who is failing Canadians.”

Before I make a bit more fun of Mulcair, and then try to take some of his arguments seriously, I should first stipulate that the Harper government is fully capable of childish absurdity on the energy/environment front. Indeed I think the confrontation between resource exports and environmental activism is turning into less of a slam-dunk political winner for Harper than he seemed to think  in the New Year.

But we see two longstanding Mulcair traits in his remarks. First, a kind of Byzantine certainty. Not just that he knows what’s going on, but inevitably that what’s going on is so complex that only a fellow such as he can grasp its intricacy. Journalists have known for a long time that Mulcair was their go-to guy for some cockamamie wheels-within-wheels theory about his opponents’ motives and actions. It cannot possibly be that Alison Redford, Christy Clark and Brad Wall simply disagree with Mulcair, or even that they don’t care whether he’s right but are playing to different electorates. No, they say what they say because they are in league with Harper against him.  Mulcair surely knows Christy Clark’s chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, helped script Harper’s winning 2006 campaign. If he didn’t know that Brad Wall’s former environment minister, Nancy Heppner, worked in Harper’s PMO for a year after that campaign, he knows it now and will take great satisfaction in tucking it away for future use. See? She’s the go-between. I knew it. 

The notion that Alison Redford is Harper’s preferred Alberta premier, or that she scans the skies at night for the light from the Harpsignal, is harder to square with the available data, but whatever. On to the second Mulcair characteristic: the belief that disagreement is synonymous with illegitimate attack against him. You will tell me that’s hardly unique. You’ll be right. Just look at the prime minister. But now we know Mulcair is no more immune from the garden-variety political martyr complex. Wells would write crap like “martyr complex.” He’s from Maclean’s. They hate me. 

On the substance of the thing, I won’t claim to be the arbiter of Canada’s susceptibility to Dutch disease. A debate is underway and readers will draw their own conclusions. I note Mulcair’s certainty that the expertise lines up his way — O’Neil paraphrases him saying Harper must know Mulcair is right because Harper is an economist. Yet it’s pretty easy to find economists* who think Mulcair is wrong. Even Mark Carney gives Mulcair’s thesis only a fraction of the credit for Canada’s poor manufacturing export performance.

I don’t think Mulcair is wrong, in general, to seek environmentalism, manufacturing, Quebec and Ontario as philosophical and political bases. His positions are legitimate and will appeal to a lot of voters. But we haven’t seen the last of his wheels-within-wheels theorizing or the way he gets his back up when crossed.

*UPDATE: At least one reader seems to have had some difficulty verifying the credentials of the economists I linked to. Stephen Gordon’s cv is here. Here are excerpts from the bios for the authors of the IRPP paper Barrie McKenna wrote about:

“Richard S. Gray is a professor and acting head of the Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics at the University of Saskatchewan. He received his PhD in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley… and is a fellow of the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society.

“Jeremy Leonard is research director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy… He holds an MA in economics (summa cum laude) from McGill University and a BA in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Mohammad Shakeri holds a PhD in economics from the University of Saskatchewan. The current study is based on a part of his PhD dissertation…. He is currently researching economic issues related to the agriculture sector at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in collaboration with Linking Environment and Agriculture Research Network.”