Tom Mulcair was praised by friends and political foes alike Thursday as he prepared to retire from Parliament with a call for Canada to be a champion of democracy in the world.
More than a decade after his surprise election in a Montreal riding, which paved the way for the orange wave that swept through Quebec in 2011, the former NDP leader delivered his final address before leaving federal politics later this summer.
Much of Mulcair’s speech was spent thanking his family, particularly wife Catherine, as well as employees on Parliament Hill, while reflecting on the “unlikely, hopeful, slightly mad political adventure” that was his career in the federal arena.
Yet, he also threw down the gauntlet for those who will continue to serve in Parliament – and all Canadians – by emphasizing the need to continue defending the values and principles that define this country.
“We have a lot more in common than anything that divides,” Mulcair told the House of Commons, to which he was first elected in 2007 after scoring a surprise by-election victory in the traditionally Liberal riding of Outremont.
“While we can and should celebrate and cherish our democracy, our liberties, our rights and our institutions, we’re all keenly aware that no one can take anything for granted in today’s world.
“Democracy needs champions and Canada should be one of those champions.”
Mulcair also underscored the importance of relations with the country’s Indigenous People, saying all Canadians “have a lot to learn from those who were here first, in particular our obligation to leave things better for generations to come.”
Minutes before he rose to speak for the last time, MPs from all parties offered their reflections on Mulcair’s decade in the Commons, which included serving as leader of the Official Opposition from 2012 to 2015 following the death of Jack Layton.
Many of the comments touched on his prosecutorial style during that three-year period in which his verbal sparring with then-prime minister Stephen Harper was considered must-see TV in political circles.
“During his tenure as the leader of the Opposition, his unique style won him praise and the ire of the former government,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau, a Liberal MP from Montreal, said of his political adversary.
“He wasn’t afraid of holding their feet to the fire to get the answers that Canadians demanded. And he also gave us a run for our money.”
Mulcair was also praised as a strong advocate for Quebec, while Green Party Leader Elizabeth May thanked him for opposing the Harper government’s ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies – a position many believe cost the NDP the 2015 election.
Six months after the party finished a distant third in the election, Mulcair became the first federal leader to be rejected by his own party members in a leadership review.
Of course, no celebration of Mulcair’s political career would be complete without some good-natured ribbing about his beard, which Conservative MP Lisa Raitt compared to the “wonderful whiskers” of Abraham Lincoln.
“His most lasting contribution, the moment at which he truly changed this Parliament for future generations is when he had the courage to stand for what he believed in, speak truth to power, to do politics differently and refused to shave ever,” Raitt said.
Mulcair is scheduled to officially vacate his position as MP for Outremont later this summer before taking up a teaching position at the University of Montreal.