Those of you who have been reading me for several years now know one thing: it takes a lot to impress me in the political arena. Not that the men and women who choose this thankless and demanding career (or, likely, any of you) give two hoots what I think, mind you… but my thoughts are important because I suspect many readers feel the way I do. If that is indeed the case, I’m certain you are as blown away as I am by the historic victory pulled off by Thomas Mulcair of the NDP in Outremont last week.
Mulcair makes believers of us with historic by-election victory
That’s right. Thomas J. (for Joseph) Mulcair, husband to Catherine Pinhas,
father to two sons, the former Chomedey MNA and minister in the Charest cabinet, till the Premier insulted this extremely respected, hard-working, honest and often prescient lawyer by demoting him, thus losing his trust. MP Mulcair… of the NDP… victorious in the Liberal bastion of… Outremont? It’s like a dream for Mulcair and his many supporters, a nightmare for the drowning federal Liberals under neophyte leader Stephane Dion, who has certainly seen better days. Harper’s Conservatives are assuredly not doing cartwheels, either.
I had the extreme pleasure of meeting with Mulcair last week, just days after the by-election, at his riding office in Outremont. As many of you know, the riding encompasses parts of the West End, so the new MP is ideal column material. Over some good java, special Outremont blend, we discussed his thoughts just as he prepares to head to Ottawa and set up his Parliamentary offices.
I was dying to know - Why the NDP? I mean, it’s not as if the party has made much of an impression on Quebecers till now, despite leader Jack Layton’s fine efforts. “The NDP represents my values and it represents the values of a lot of Quebecers,” Mulcair told me. “It’s just not as well known here and that’s for one simple reason: A lot of the progressive vote over the years has defaulted to the Bloc (Quebecois). Even though the Bloc has no desire to form a government and, of course, it can’t, because it only
runs candidates in Quebec, the Bloc represents for a lot of Quebecers the bulwark against what many of them see as the dominating issue… Quebec’s place. The constitutional issue has been the dividing line, the only issue in Quebec politics for 40 years.”
Mulcair, who turns 53 in October, pointed out that he hails from the Claude Ryan side of the Quebec Liberal Party – “He was my political mentor” – and that he’s “always been very active socially, so the views of the NDP are my views.” Though he was approached by several parties to run, including the Green Party and a Progressive Conservative party dying for help on the environmental front, one of Mulcair’s strengths, he and leader Layton had known one another for a long time. “There were talks back and forth and I finally accepted their offer to become Jack’s Quebec lieutenant.” He announced his decision on April 20, 2007 and it’s been win-win for Mulcair ever since. “Everyone thought we were crazy to go after Outremont (a seemingly impenetrable Liberal fortress, Mulcair admitted). We said, no, if you look at the numbers, Outremont’s our best riding, we had 17.2 percent last time around… we said we were going to build on that and we just took off.” To say the least, to be sure.
So, now that the dream is a “faite accompli,” and I use the French in respectful deference to the alternate side of Mulcair’s half-Irish ancestry (he is the great grandson of Honore Mercier, founder of the Parti National and Quebec Premier from 1887 – 1891), what can we expect? I asked Mulcair for his views on several current hot topics.
On the just-completed campaign: They (Liberals) ran a really flat-footed campaign and we were fleet-footed, we came out of the starting blocks really strongly and we never slowed down.” On universal health care: “Everybody in Quebec talks about Claude Castonguay as the father of Medicare. Malarkey! Medicare existed since 1947 in the Prairies and it had been in place for a whole generation before it was finally brought into Quebec and the rest of Canada. That why the NDP is going to fight so hard to maintain a public, universal, free and accessible medical care system across Canada, because we put it in place and we dearly believe in those same values…” On the environment: “One of the biggest problems we’ve got is the failure to apply laws rigorously and consistently… one of the hallmarks (during) my stay as Minister of the Environment was the rigorous enforcement of the statutes in a way that didn’t take into account the size of the company, the influence of the municipality or the type of farm it was. If the law said ‘this is what is allowed’ we would never negotiate.” Zero tolerance, he admitted, “is the only way to do it.”
On the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan: “We’re opposed to our current role in Afghanistan. This combat mission is ill advised, ill conceived and it is not bringing more stability to Afghanistan. There is now less stability and security in Afghanistan than before this mission started. Canada has a proud, well-deserved, enviable record around the world as a peace-keeper (and) this mission is just wrong.” On peace in the Middle East: “… For personal and family reasons, I’ve always been very clear on my support for the State of Israel and I think that a two-state solution is the smart one. I think that Mr. Coulon quite correctly got into trouble during this campaign for his statements on Hamas and I don’t think Mr. Dion ever understood the importance to a lot of members of the community here of that issue.”
As for his opponents’ concern that the NDP’s presence in Quebec will eventually spread, count on Mulcair to do everything to make that a reality. Helping recruit “a core group of well-known candidates” here is one of the goals that Mulcair has been charged by Layton with helping to realize. Give me any odds… I wouldn’t ever bet against THIS horse to win any race he leads.