Why is this man laughing?

Thomas Mulcair takes questions from Maclean's

Thomas Mulcair laughs. In the context of the question being asked, it is possibly both a reaction and a response.

He is being asked about the character of “Angry Tom” and soon he is laughing about the Prime Minister’s tweets. Does it concern him at all, this characterization? Is he conscious of it when he stands to speak in public?

“To be honest with you, there are parts of our lives here that you guys don’t see. And I’ll share with you two scenes from life on the Hill. Because the Prime Minister’s office is literally right under mine so sometimes we meet on the way down. And yesterday, very friendly, handshake, all right, we go in and we’re doing our jobs,” he says. “And when they fail to answer, because they couldn’t answer and on CNOOC/Nexen they’re dead wrong … So when they’re avoiding answering, they don’t have an answer, we hit them hard. It was a very tough, straight-on debate in the House. Very tough. When we left, by pure coincidence, we wound up bumping into the Prime Minister again, big smiles all around, all the best to you and your family for the holidays. That’s the real world on a personal level. Which doesn’t mean that you back down from the tough fight on the policy level, on the political level. We know that they weren’t telling the truth on CNOOC/Nexen. We were going to stand our ground on that one.”

Two weeks short of 2013, Mr. Mulcair has been the NDP leader for nine months. He is a little more than two years away from his first general election as a potential prime minister. He is in the middle of a three-year effort to prepare himself, his party and the public for the possibility of this country’s first national NDP government. Every day is supposed to be about getting there.

If there remains much to be clarified, the basic structure of his proposal seems to be taking shape—”public administration” and “sustainable development” and qualities like confidence and strength and toughness.

“One of the game-changers here since I’ve been in charge of the opposition is that for the first time, Stephen Harper is facing a tough, strong, structured official opposition,” he says.

And what of those Liberals?

“Nycole Turmel put her hand on my shoulder,” Mr. Mulcair recalls, “and said, ‘I don’t know who the Liberals are going to have, but whoever it is is going to have trouble finding room between the two of you.’ ”

In a conversation with Maclean’s, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair discusses the state of his party, the Liberal leadership race, carbon pricing, unions, sustainable development, taxes and the Prime Minister’s tweets. For a transcript of the conversation, click here.

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