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NDP leader Tom Mulcair is applauded at the beginning of their caucus meeting Wednesday, September 14, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP leader Tom Mulcair is applauded at the beginning of their caucus meeting Wednesday, September 14, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Politics

Mulcair says NDP caucus supports his leadership as party struggles in polls Add to ...

Tom Mulcair has stood before media cameras for the second time this year to say his leadership is supported by all members of his diminished caucus and that he will not be pushed from the NDP’s top job.

But his travails are far from over. Heading into the fall sitting of Parliament, Mr. Mulcair remains the interim leader of a party that rejected him – one that is languishing in the polls, has seen its fundraising spiral downward and will struggle to remain relevant as it fights a popular Liberal government espousing many of its own values.

After several weeks of quiet grumbling from anonymous and dissatisfied New Democrats, Mr. Mulcair emerged from a caucus meeting at noon on Wednesday to say he is not being challenged in his role as leader.

“I couldn’t be more honoured and humbled by the support of our caucus,” he told reporters as his MPs stood smiling behind him.

Mr. Mulcair then left it to Charlie Angus, the caucus chair, to verify that he was not being ousted from within.

“For us this morning, we are a united, unified caucus,” said Mr. Angus, prompting the phalanx of New Democrats to cheer and clap in agreement.

There was no vote, said the Northern Ontario MP. “The question was put, being there was speculation whether Mr. Mulcair was to stay or not,” he said. “So we didn’t need a vote. We talked to each other and support was unanimous.”

New Democrats who were in the meeting said those who were concerned about the capabilities of Mr. Mulcair were won over by his willingness to admit he was humbled by the party’s current state of affairs.

It was reminiscent of another news conference staged by the New Democrats last April after delegates at an NDP convention in Edmonton determined that Mr. Mulcair should be replaced. Some NDP politicians at that time questioned his decision to stay until his successor is chosen. That limited revolt was also quelled.

Provided there is no subsequent and more successful revolt, Mr. Mulcair will remain as leader until his successor is chosen in the fall of 2017.

But, even if those MPs who believe he is not the best person to help them rebuild after last year’s election have once again been silenced, none of the politicians attending the Montreal meeting voiced confidence that the task ahead of them would be easy.

A Forum Research poll conducted earlier this month, one that is expected to be accurate within 3 percentage points, suggested the New Democrats had the backing of just 11 per cent of Canadians.

Those numbers reflect the findings of other recent surveys including those conducted by Nanos Research.

“When we look at the polling data, what’s clear is that much of the past opportunity has basically fallen into the hands of the Liberals,” said Nic Nanos, the president of the polling firm.

It is more than three years until the next election. But Mr. Nanos does not believe there will be enough time for the New Democrats to resurge to the point where they will be a significant threat to the Liberals in 2019.

The fact that neither the NDP nor the Conservatives have a permanent leader in place has created a vacuum for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his party to consolidate the base of support he created prior to last year’s vote, said Mr. Nanos.

“And I think this is especially true for the New Democrats,” he said. “Basically Justin Trudeau has absorbed a big part of those Canadians who are progressive and would consider voting for the New Democrats.”

Mr. Mulcair told his caucus that there are many issues dividing New Democrats from Liberals and there will be many opportunities for holding the government to account – health-care funding, pipeline approvals, overseas troop deployment, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and nuclear safety among others.

But New Democrats acknowledge that their position is less than rosy. They are a long way from the benches of the Official Opposition that they held a year ago when they entered the election campaign in a tight three-way race.

More than that, the broad party base that developed in opposition to the former Conservative government has been diminished.

“It’s a challenging time and I don’t think we are where we would like to be,” said Don Davies, a New Democrat MP from Vancouver.

“We do know we have challenges and we’re going to be addressing them and coming forward stronger but it’s important that we are united. It’s important that we gave Tom Mulcair a unanimous show of support as we go up to the House and focus on our real job which is holding the Liberals to account.”

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