Mulcair: A man for Ottawa, not for Canada

Alex Martino

Tom Mulcair got a better reception from his colleagues and opponents in the House of Commons than among members of his own party this week.

Four days in the life of the deposed-but-not-quite-yet-deposed NDP leader in a way explains most of what needs to be said about how it all went wrong in the first place.

On the benches, Mulcair has been a memorable voice fighting against legislation, his opposition to Bill C-51, the Keystone Pipeline and other efforts by the previous Harper-led Conservative government helped the leader stand a fighting chance when the time came for an election.

Outside of Ottawa, the leader would eventually struggle for many reasons, but in general because he couldn’t translate his strong parliamentarian abilities to a national campaign.

In the 2011 election, the NDP’s “Orange Surge” in Quebec was thanks to the late Jack Layton’s success in connecting with voters.

Layton’s replacement by Mulcair was not an obvious detraction from the progress the NDP had made until years later thanks to the previously mentioned strong presence Mulcair had as the opposition and his roots in Quebec, home to a significant part of the Layton-era surge.

When the time came for another election, that would soon change, and Canadians found out that Layton and Mulcair were completely different political animals.

It’s not that Mulcair had to be as much of a darling as his predecessor had been; he didn’t have to take on someone else’s personality. It’s just that the wry delivery of Mulcair and his strength in arguments weren’t going to work as well on a national stage as they did for those who follow the House of Commons with fervor.

And Mulcair certainly has those political analysts to thank for an early advantage in the long campaign. The reputation to be a fighter in the face of controversial legislation was attractive for many who could see that the Liberals were taking a soft approach and holding their cards close to their chests.

Unfortunately, it was the niqab debate that spelled the beginning of the end for Mulcair.

Mulcair’s insistence on allowing religious freedom, in this case supporting the choice of a niqab during a citizenship ceremony, worked against him, and from then on the NDP faced an uphill battle in the campaign.

After losing the opposition and becoming the third party once again, the NDP was faced with a reassessment of its identity.

Before the 2011 election the NDP platform took a more centrist turn, hid some of their hard left intentions in order to expand and become a more accessible party.

It was a move to play on the then-weak Liberal offering that plagued the now-governing party for most of the 2000s.

Came the federal campaign of 2015, the Liberals were better at promising Canadians they had a chance at defeating the Conservative government, and that is how we got to where we are today.

Now with a provincial victory in Alberta under Premier Rachel Notley, the NDP has become a party divided. Some think the party returning to more leftist ways will work nationally, showing Canadians that they truly are the alternative to the status quo in Ottawa.

Mulcair’s 52 per cent rejection in the confidence vote at the party convention in Edmonton was a sign that playing up a more centrist platform is not the future direction of the NDP, in all branches of government.

Since Mulcair was the figurehead of the previous Layton-led approach, the one who attempted to maintain it but failed to connect with voters at a national level, he paid the price.

Despite the rejection of his leadership by his own party, there is no doubt that Mulcair will remain a presence in the House.

On Tuesday, Mulcair returned to Question Period and received a standing ovation from the entire House of Commons, a sign of respect for the work he has done in the place he knows how to do it best.

Within seconds, Mulcair was back in his element, aiming for the jugular.

“Mister Speaker, after years of ethically challenged Conservative rule, the Liberals promised to do things differently…”

He laughed to himself as those who had just stood to applaud him grew raucous, to the point that the Speaker of the House had to intervene to bring decorum back to the chamber.

Just as his following questions on Tuesday included trademark snipes whenever possible, Mulcair will surely keep himself chuckling on the benches with snarky responses and critiques whenever possible.

Parliamentarians may not be what Canada wants, but for those who stay up to date with the happenings on the Hill, the soon to be former leader will remain a favourite.

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