Thomas Mulcair received a standing ovation from all sides of the House of Commons as he rose to ask his first question as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition on Monday.
But his debut in Question Period was immediately preceded by an attack in the form of a member’s statement from Jeff Watson, a Conservative MP from Southwestern Ontario. Mr. Watson had so much to say about the new NDP Leader that he ran out of time and his microphone was cut off.
New Democrats elected a new chief “who will continue to push its high tax, high spending, jobs-killing agenda,” Mr. Watson told the House
“This hug-a-thug, soft-on-crime leader will return Canada to policies favoring the rights of criminals over those of victims,” said Mr. Watson who labelled Mr. Mulcair an “opportunist” with a “divisive personality” and “ruthless ambition.”
The words mimicked those of Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey, who issued a statement on behalf of his party within minutes of Mr. Mulcair’s election on Saturday night saying the NDP Leader’s “divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk.”
The Tories went after Stéphane Dion for not being a leader and his successor at the Liberal helm, Michael Ignatieff, for the years he spent living outside the country. It is clear they now plan to attack Mr. Mulcair for being abrasive.
For his part, Mr. Mulcair stuck to his script and asked his opening questions in a calm but determined manner.
He wanted to know why the government has allowed the closure of three Aveos aircraft maintenance bases in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal at the expense of thousands of Canadian jobs. The Air Canada Public Participation Act, he noted, requires the airline to maintain heavy maintenance and overhaul centres in those three cities.
“They can enforce the Act, save these jobs and do something for a change,” Mr. Mulcair said. “Why won’t they act?”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is out of the country so it was left to Heritage Minister James Moore to respond to Mr. Mulcair’s first question as leader. Mr. Moore explained that Transport Minister Denis Lebel has asked a Commons committee to investigate the Aveos situation.
Mr. Mulcair's real first challenge will come later this week when Mr. Harper returns and the Conservatives roll out a new budget.
When asked after the Question Period why he chose to go after the government about Aveos rather than the more scandalous issues facing the Conservatives – like the robo-calls affair or the Ethics Commissioner’s finding that Industry Minister Christian Paradis had broken conflict-of-interest rules – Mr. Mulcair replied that his focus has always been the economy.
“Throughout our campaign we’ve been concentrating on jobs,” the NDP Leader said. “We’ve been concentrating on the failure of the Conservatives to apply basic rules of sustainable development. That’s had a devastating effect on the manufacturing sector – the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs.”
When reporters asked about Conservative attempts to define him to the Canadian public, Mr. Mulcair replied: “The best way for us to respond to that is by showing what our plan is. We are there, of course, as the Official Opposition, to sometimes to call the government to account, to oppose. But more and more you are going to hear us propose.”
The Conservatives are very good at defining their adversaries, Mr. Mulcair added. “So we’re going to start to define them.”