It’s ridiculously early to pick a winner in the race for the leadership of the New Democratic Party, but any clean break in the bland stasis of Canadian politics deserves appreciation.
Thomas Mulcair — the temperamental Liberal switcher who broke into federal politics in 2007 as Quebec’s only elected New Democrat and now effectively leads 59 members of Parliament from Quebec, — looks as good in action as he looks on paper.
Lawrence Martin, national columnist and obsessive headhunter for a progressive alternative to Stephen Harper, wisely dismissed the whisper about Mulcair’s manners and advised timid New Democrats to not frustrate his chances in favor of a more affable, reputedly, shrewd insider:
“Mr. Mulcair wants the leadership, but there is a good chance that he won’t run. The anti-Mulcair forces want a quick leadership convention, perhaps as early as January, to stop him. ‘If we precipitate this,’ says Mr. Mulcair speaking of the convention timetable, ‘we would be hobbled. The process is going to be a determining factor in our decision.’
“For the party to hobble the most highly qualified candidate would make no sense. The New Democrats are in the big leagues now and if they want to stay there they need a big leaguer – whether they like him or not.”
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What’s most exciting about Mulcair’s emergence is his obvious willingness to play hardball within his own party.
He’s clearly confident that if the party executive gives him the time, he’ll do well selling memberships and winning votes outside Quebec. Rather than meekly lobby the party executive for more time, however, he went public last week and made it clear that he won’t run if he isn’t granted more time. This Friday, they will likely bow to his terms. He’ll come out of the gate with the same detractors — but with enough time to win.
Mulcair was born into a Liberal family, studied law at McGill, worked for the Quebec Government and got his start in Liberal politics. Jack Layton was raised in a prominent Progressive Conservative family, but studied politics at York University, became a fulltime community activist, and worked his way to the top of the New Democrats. The former reluctantly abandoned his family’s politics; the later never accepted his. Only Jack biked to work.
Mulcair is a gambler and a clearheaded son of a bitch. This is a rare and generally a good thing in politics, particularly in organizations that dream long-term and usually settle for moral victories. Pierre Trudeau was called a son of a bitch on the floor of his Liberal leadership convention in 1968.
Thomas Mulcair is not another sunny spirit like Jack Layton. But then again neither were ruthless, often brutal progressives like Pierre Trudeau, David Lewis, and Jean Chretien.
There is only one thing the New Democrats must do, for now, if they want to lead the left into power: stay well ahead of the Liberals. Mulcair looks like the ticket.