Skip to main content
Federal election 2015

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A hotly contested federal election campaign is drawing to close. In the leaders of the three front-running parties, Canadians will find equal amounts of desire and ambition to head up the country’s next government. Below, we’ve excerpted three articles that aim to shed light on the personalities of the men whose public images have been so carefully scripted since the campaign began.

From Jeffrey Simpson's profile of Thomas Mulcair:

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Thinking about transition to government had never been a priority for any previous NDP leader, except perhaps as a theoretical exercise. In election campaigns, a polite fiction required party officials to repeat that the NDP might win and that its leader could become "the next prime minister of Canada," as those who introduced the leader would shout. Nobody believed it, not even the leaders. Until Tom Mulcair actually tried to position his party to win.

On the eve of the current election, it appeared the New Democrats had a chance to do just that. Polls consistently showed them leading the Conservatives and Liberals in a tight three-way contest. The NDP had won in the most unlikely place – Alberta – why not across the country? Anti-Harper sentiment was widespread, and Mr. Mulcair was fashioning the NDP as the best agent for change, while trying to reassure voters that the party had grown up, shaken off ideology, and was ready to govern. If the NDP could not win an outright majority, then it might still take power through an understanding with the Liberals.

The lure of power had allowed Mr. Mulcair – intelligent, driven, a pragmatist and political centrist – to bring even the party's left-wingers onside with his strategy of appealing to the middle class, stressing balanced budgets, promising no personal income-tax increases even on the better-off, and not going overboard on new social-policy spending.

Those who knew him well in Quebec politics, where he had been a member of the centrist Liberal Party, had never thought of him as a left-winger. His boss then was premier Jean Charest, with whom he worked harmoniously until he was dropped from a senior cabinet post – over principle or personality, depending on one's perspective. "We never had any sense there was a socialist bent in Tom," Mr. Charest said in an interview. "He was more viewed on the right side of cabinet. I would describe him as a fiscal conservative."

Now the NDP is slumping in national polls. If the party falls back to third place, from first at the start of the campaign, questions will surely be asked about Mr. Mulcair's pragmatic positioning of the party. How, critics will ask, could the Liberals with Justin Trudeau – the leader with the famous name, whom Mr. Mulcair considers his intellectual inferior – overtake the NDP as the preferred alternative to the Harper Conservatives?

While previous leader Jack Layton had taken the party from fourth to second and been lionized, a slip to third would leave Mr. Mulcair with much to answer for – although if there is one aspect of his personality everyone agrees upon, it is that he defends his corner, hard.

Continue reading the subscriber-only feature
"The pragmatist: Thomas Mulcair and the new ambitions of the NDP"

From Ian Brown's profile of Justin Trudeau:

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

In the same way that young Stephen Harper wandered from interest to interest, dropping out of university and then re-enrolling, in the same way that Pierre Trudeau dressed like Jesus and travelled the world after law school (he listed his profession as "teacher" when he first ran for the House of Commons), Justin Trudeau spent the next few years of his life trying to figure out ways to live it. His choices are well-known and often derided: traveller, whitewater guide, snowboard instructor, bartender, bouncer, and finally teacher (French, math, drama, creative writing, and law in both private and public Vancouver high schools).

Then everything changed. The death of Michel Trudeau, Justin's youngest brother, in an avalanche in the interior of B.C. in 1998, sent Pierre Trudeau into a steep decline, shattering his Catholic faith. Justin learned from his brother Sacha that his father, already suffering from Parkinson's, had prostate cancer. Pierre Trudeau never pressured his sons to go into politics – "Our family has done enough," he always told them – but in the aftermath of Michel's death, Justin began to consider it seriously. It was then that he realized he had never spoken to his father about the game of politics.

"I had to fix that," he told me recently. "So I sat down and said, 'Dad, it's possible that one day I might end up in politics. So what do I need to know?'"

"And he sort of looked at me, and he didn't really know what to answer, and he said, 'Well, ask me a specific question.' And I said, 'Okay, well, suppose you have something that you know is right for the country. But the banks and big business don't want you to do it. How do you handle that? How do you push back against people whose local interests, or self-interest, or perspective prevents them from seeing what you know is the right thing to do?' "

He paused. "We had a 10-minute conversation then about how you have to be true to yourself and true to your principles. But I'll tell you, in a lifetime of conversation with my father, about everything under the sun, that was probably the most awkward and artificial conversation we could have had. At the time, I never really understood why, but looking back on it, I realize that it's because everything he taught me about being a good person, and growing up to be a strong man, an adult, and a good dad, all those things he taught me, with his example and his engagement, everything that he did – he'd already taught me. And that was how to be a good politician – to be a good, complete person. And not worry about what you do when you're down in the polls and you have to react to this or that. That's all changeable from one generation to the next anyway, and wouldn't have any value."

You can call that spin, or idealistic and naïve. But the desire to behave like a decent human being, especially in the face of degraded modern politics such as the latest NDP attack ads, is the steadiest mantra Mr. Trudeau has, the principle he returns to most consistently in conversation.

Continue reading the subscriber-only feature
"The challenge: In search of the real Justin Trudeau"

From John Ibbitson's feature on Stephen Harper:

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Opponents rage against this new Canada, say it is the antithesis of who we really are, point to polls that suggest conservative values are not Canadian values. But the critics are wrong because Stephen Harper's Canada is the Canada we have become.

We are a country that reflects the rise in population, power and influence of the West, which has mostly voted Conservative at the federal level for half a century. We are a country of five million immigrants who have arrived over the past two decades from China and India and the Philippines and other Asian and Pacific nations, bringing with them more conservative economic and social values.

That is why the two men seeking to replace Stephen Harper as prime minister have embraced his agenda. Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats and the Liberals' Justin Trudeau criticize Mr. Harper harshly, but for the most part they do so at the margins. Mr. Mulcair speaks of growing up in a family where "we worked hard, played by the rules and lived within our means"– a most conservative mythology. Of the literally dozens of tax cuts and tax credits imposed by the Conservatives, Mr. Trudeau would reverse just one.

Both men know that, if they are to shatter the Conservative coalition of immigrant and Western voters, they must cater to the values and concerns of that coalition.

Whatever happens in the election, the Harper legacy will be with Canada for a very long time. So let's take stock and consider the State of the Union under this most presidential of prime ministers.

Continue reading the subscriber-only feature
"How Harper created a more conservative Canada"

Our closer look at Stephen Harper also includes an excerpt from Mr. Ibbitson's book on the Conservative leader, as well as an exclusive interview on the 'strange fishbowl of being prime minister'.