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Thomas Mulcair no longer Quebec's loneliest federal politician

Thomas Mulcair, NDP deputy leader and candidate in the riding of Outremont, talks with a supporter during Canada's federal election day in Montreal, Monday, May 2, 2011.


Thomas Mulcair is no longer the loneliest federal politician in Quebec.

The sole NDP flag-bearer in la belle province returns to Ottawa in the company of a massive deputation of NDP rookies, whose giddy presence at a Montreal theatre Monday night signalled one of the most stunning breakthroughs in recent Canadian politics.

In a sea of cheers and applause, NDP supporters and newly-minted MPs took measure of the political earthquake that had shaken the province. What seemed quixotic only five weeks ago -- an NDP breakthrough in Quebec -- had indeed come true.

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And if Quebec succumbed to an orange tide, Mr. Mulcair was Agent Orange -- the man who gave the party its toehold in the province.

"The NDP heard and understood your profound desire to do things differently in Ottawa," Mr. Mulcair said to a room of jubilant supporters in his Montreal riding of Outremont. "With this election and this extraordinary result tonight, Quebec is again playing a key role in deep and historic change."

Amid those in the crowd was giant-killer Hélène Laverdière, who defeated Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe in his Montreal riding.

"Our message got across," she said in an interview as she accepted handshakes and hugs. Voters were receptive to the NDP's environmental and social-justice policies, she said. "I felt great enthusiasm. This vote wasn't against the Bloc, it was for the NDP."

The NDP candidates rode to their victories on a wave of change and a growing sense of fatigue with the Bloc. The NDP pulled in so-called "soft nationalists" in Quebec who had grown tired of the Bloc and found in the NDP a left-leaning alternative.

"With the Bloc you're not making decisions, you're not being pro-active," said Guy Boutin, a restaurant manager and former Bloc voter who turned up at the gathering. "The NDP could one day become the government -- the Bloc can't."

"This is an Obama moment in Quebec. People want do politics in new way," Mr. Boutin said.

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The NDP's surge in Quebec became the biggest and most improbable story of the election campaign. Until today, Mr. Mulcair was only the second NDP MP ever elected in Quebec, and the first one to ever win in a general election. Now he'll be heading to Ottawa with 60 other NDP MPs from Quebec.

Only four years ago, when Mr. Mulcair first ran under the NDP banner, leader Jack Layton spoke of his party's success in Quebec as if it were an elusive possibility.

"Tommy Douglas used to say, ' Dream no little dreams,'" Mr. Layton said of the iconic party leader. "I think it would be fair to say an NDP breakthrough in Quebec is one of those bigger dreams."

Now, Mr. Mulcair will likely take on a major role on the federal scene. Already deputy party leader, the former provincial Liberal can be expected to have a high profile in Ottawa. The 56-year-old is also widely believed to have NDP leadership aspirations.

Among the NDP frontrunners who crammed into the Rialto Theatre, a landmark building set amid the Greek tavernas and fruit stores along Montreal's polyglot Park Ave., are some fresh faces to politics.

Alexandre Boulerice, a former journalist, took the Montreal riding of Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie against the Bloc's Bernard Bigras. Mr. Boulerice, a 37-year-old onetime Bloc supporter, said that voters during the campaign virtually never raised the issue of Quebec's place in the federation. What attracted young voters to the NDP were questions such as climate change, the war in Afghanistan and health care.

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"The template has gone from federalist-sovereignist to a left vs. right," he said.

Lise St.-Pierre, a retired schoolteacher who defeated the Bloc in former federal MP Jean Chrétien's riding of St-Maurice-Champlain, compared the swing to the NDP to other large-scale shifts in Quebec.

"We abandoned religion and our churches emptied overnight. When we voted for the Parti Québécois in 1976 it wasn't predicted. Now it's the NDP. It's a trait of Quebeckers. We stick together and when we decide to do something, look at the result."

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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