From the state of the nation and his political battle plan to family life and his tricky personality, the Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada opens up in conversation with John Ibbitson, national political columnist of The Globe and Mail
THE IMPACT DILEMMA
Your questioning of the Prime Minister in the House during the Senate expenses scandal has been, by general consent, exemplary. And yet it is the Liberals who have profited, according to the polls, and not the NDP. How frustrating do you find that?
I’ve been through the cycles of government and opposition. I’ve been there. I know the music of it, I know the rhythm of it. And frankly, seeing where our core base now is, both inside Quebec and outside Quebec, what used to be our ceiling has now become our floor, and we’re doing well. I’m very happy.
In airports, I used to get, “Oh, that’s the NDP guy.” Now I get, systematically, “Oh, that’s Mr. Mulcair.” And by the way, it’s no longer “Mr. Muh-clair” or “Mr. Mul-clair.” Catherine [Pinhas, his wife] noted that in the Vancouver airport this summer. She said, “I want you to understand; this is important. Three times since we got off the plane, people are not saying, ‘Oh, that’s Tom,’ or ‘That’s the NDP guy.’ They’re saying, ‘That’s Mr. Mulcair.’ And that’s interesting.” And I think that’s part of the answer to your question.
In 2015, people are going to be looking for a prime minister, somebody who’s going to be able to run the country. I’ve got 35 years’ experience in public administration, in government. People see in me somebody who’s leading a very strong opposition. We’re the first opposition to take on Stephen Harper. And he’s having trouble getting used to it. He chewed up and spat out [former Liberal leaders Stéphane] Dion and [Michael] Ignatieff. But he’s now facing the fight of his life because, on the Senate scandal, we’re not letting go.
The danger, of course, is that people will see you as an effective opposition leader and not a prime minister.
I think, when people compare experiences, compare the people, compare what they’re able to do, people are going to realize that the NDP is the only party that can get the job done.
The by-elections last Nov. 25 were a test of that thesis. You did very well in Toronto Centre, and you held your vote in Bourassa. But then there is Manitoba, where your vote dropped by more than half. What is going wrong in the West?
Well, we’re going to have to work hard, and we know that. There were some issues that were very specific to Manitoba. [NDP Premier] Greg Selinger has always had my full support, but people would raise local issues with me sometimes.
I’m not going to do what the Liberals did in Brandon-Souris, which was to run a conservative. We know who we are and we’re going to stay loyal to that. And people recognize that in the NDP. They realize that it’s a strong movement, people with values that they can count on. They know that, when we talk about something, we’re going to do it. When I talk about putting a price on carbon, people know we’re not going to do what Eddie Goldenberg [adviser to prime minister Jean Chrétien] admitted the Liberals did, which was to sign Kyoto [the protocol to fight global warming] for partisan political purposes as a communications stunt, and then go on to have one of the worst records in the world [in fighting climate change].
Even though I find it reprehensible that Canada is the only country that has withdrawn from Kyoto, Stephen Harper never made a secret of what he thought of Kyoto. It was, quote, a socialist plot to suck money from rich countries, unquote. That’s what he believes, that’s what he’s put forward – whereas the Liberals have always been masters of the art of telling people what they think they want to hear, and then going ahead and doing whatever it is they want.
But maybe people don’t want to hear what you have to say. Your talk about the environmental freeloading of the oil industry might have had something to do with the results in Manitoba. You don’t think that your message about the dangers of an oil-dependent economy could be causing you grief in the Prairies?