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The only chance to beat Harper
March 9, 2012
ATHABASCA, AB, Mar. 9, 2012, Troy Media/ – “Ordinary Canadians,” to use a phrase that New Democratic Party leaders have been repeating for decades, are clear about whom they want to win the NDP’s interminable federal leadership race.
A Forum Research poll, conducted March 2 and 3, asked Canadians which party they would vote for if a federal election were held that day, providing three different scenarios, namely if Tom Mulcair, Peggy Nash, or Brian Topp, the top three contenders, became NDP leader.
Topp not on top
With Mulcair as leader, the NDP would have received 30 per cent of the vote compared to 32 per cent for the Conservatives, 23 per cent for the Liberals, 8 per cent for the Greens, and 4 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois. But if Nash were leader, the Tories rise to 33 per cent, while the NDP ties with the LIberals at 24 per cent. Put Topp in charge and the Tories go up to 34 per cent, and the Liberals to 25, with the NDP down to 23 per cent.
In terms of seats, a separate Forum poll of 1,675 Quebeckers demonstrates the devastation for the NDP in Quebec if they don’t choose Mulcair.
Mulcair, according to Forum, would garner 40 per cent of the votes in the province for the NDP and, according to the calculations of 308.com, Canada’s main website for mathematically-minded political geeks, that would retain all of the NDP’s current Quebec seats for the party. By contrast, with Topp as leader, the NDP would win only half that per centage of votes and a measly three seats. Worse, Nash as leader would mean a drop to 18 per cent of the Quebec vote and only one seat (presumably Mulcair’s, but if he chose not to run after losing the leadership contest, the evisceration of the NDP in Quebec seems the logical result).
That should clinch it for Mulcair, one would think, and polls published both by the Mulcair electoral team and by the team of leadership candidate Paul Dewar do show the former Quebec Environment Minister and the first NDPer ever to win a federal seat in Quebec in a federal general election in the lead.
But there is much griping within the NDP about Mulcair. The leading candidates generally conceded that he is the only one who is charismatic but many party members fret that, because of that charisma, he will become a one-man show rather than a team player. Everyone also concedes his bond with Quebec, but in English Canada, where NDPers have only recently had to come to terms with Quebec demands and Quebec interests, many members seem bound and determined to once again put Quebec in its place even if it costs them all those seats won by Jack Layton and Mulcair in 2011.
Mulcair wants the party to refresh its language, and has gone after such phrases as “ordinary Canadians” and the strategy of targeting unionized workers rather than workers more generally. That has drawn criticism from fellow candidates regarding his commitment to party traditions, even though a key reason for Jack Layton’s breakthrough in 2011 was that he attempted to make the NDP look less scary to people who had not supported the party in the past but who shared at least some of its values.
The fear on the part of many longstanding members is that perhaps Mulcair is not really “one of us.” But what is “one of us?”
Apart from using comfortable cliches that Mulcair, along with B.C.-based candidate Nathan Cullen, have eschewed, the policy differences between the “traditionalists” and Mulcair are minuscule. But a variety of sources are trying to suggest that Mulcair is hiding something from the members. A website called “Know Thomas Mulcair,” which claims to be the voice of unidentified “progressive” party members, but is more likely a front for one of the other candidates’ campaigns, suggests that he is a Zionist tool, and that he was responsible for cutting many jobs when he was a member of Jean Charest’s Cabinet.
The National Post meanwhile suggested that Mulcair had been toying with the idea of joining the federal Conservatives after resigning from Charest’s government. And then there were the revelations that Mulcair gave money to his own constituency association rather than to the national party, something that the federal party expects its elected members to do.
How accurate are these accusations? A comment by Mulcair in 2008 that seemed to suggest that he, like Stephen Harper, was on Israel’s side no matter what has been much quoted. But throughout the campaign, he has, like the other leading candidates, reiterated the party’s official stance that calls for a two-state solution with Canada attempting to play a mediating role rather than the lapdog role for Israel that Harper plays or a parallel role for the Palestinians that some elements of the NDP advocate.
The criticisms of Mulcair’s presence in a Quebec LIberal government that did indeed cut some public service jobs is interesting, considering that no one faults Topp for his behind-the-scenes role in the big cuts that were made by the Romanow NDP government in Saskatchewan. No doubt that is because an NDP government that leans to the right gets a pass that a Liberal government that tacks to the right does not.
Mulcair no ‘flaming radical’
But, as Mulcair has pointed out, Quebec provincial politics since the 1970s has divided less on right versus left lines than on federalism versus separatism. Within each camp there are rightists, leftists, and centrists, and the overall platforms of both the Parti Quebecois and the Liberals therefore are a set of compromises. In any case, Mulcair quit the Quebec Liberals when Jean Charest insisted upon allowing resource companies to go ahead with projects in provincial parks, which, in Mulcair’s view, had to be preserved for environmental protection and for popular enjoyment.
Tom Mulcair is no flaming radical, but he does support the NDP’s social, environmental, and economic policies. He has a long history of public service while his opponents have rather thin resumes in terms of work within government or in the private sector.
It will be interesting to see if the party’s almost 130,000 members choose to elect him as their leader and to give Canadians a chance to elect a prime minister who will make a break with the harsh policies of Stephen Harper. Or will their suspicions that this man is too suave, too self-confident, and too willing to go beyond the party’s sleepy phrases cause them to reject him in favour of one of the unfortunately forgettable group of candidates whom the NDP leadership race has attracted along with Mulcair?
Alvin Finkel is professor of History at Athabasca University and author of Social Policy and Practice in Canada: A History (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006)
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