From 2003 to 2011, the federal NDP were led by Jack Layton, who took them to their greatest height in 2011 when they became the Official Opposition. After Layton died, the party had to find someone to lead through to the next election and hopefully beyond. That role would fall on Thomas Mulcair, the man who helped take the party from one seat, his own, in Quebec in 2007 to 59 in 2011.
The story of Thomas Mulcair begins at the Ottawa Hospital on Oct. 24, 1954, when he was born to Jeanne and Harry Mulcair, one of ten children. Like Layton and other politicians who came before, there was a political heritage to the Mulcair family. His great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a Quebec premier. His great-great-great grandfather had also served as the premier of the province.
While he was born in Ottawa, Mulcair would be raised in Hull, Quebec, now a part of Gatineau, and just north of Montreal where he attended Laval Catholic High School. As a teenager, Mulcair had made the decision that he would go into politics.
After graduating high school, Mulcair decided to attend law school. He would borrow money from his sister to buy textbooks and he would pay his way through law school by working construction jobs and graveling roofs. His efforts were rewarded in 1977 when he graduated from McGill University.
Thomas Mulcair would first appear in newspaper on Feb. 19, 1972, when he sent a letter to the Montreal Star to voice his opposition by the US government proposal to have defence costs paid partly by other nations. He would say quote:
“In recognition of the fact that American defence of the free world is nothing more than a farcical myth which the US uses to rationalize the reliance of its economy on war, Canada should take a stand against any further spending and prove herself a leader.”
It was at McGill that he started to show his first desires for a political career. In 1976, the same year he married his wife Catherine, who became a psychologist, Mulcair was elected president of the McGill Law Students Association, while also sitting on the McGill Student Union.
In 1978, he moved to Quebec City and the next year was called to the Bar of Quebec.
In 1983, Mulcair became the director of Alliance Quebec, and he would play a role in amending the Charter of the French Language, which was opposed by Quebec separatists. He would also translate Manitoba statutes into French.
In 1985, he started his own private law practice and started teaching law courses to non-law students at Concordia University.
Before Mulcair would get to the House of Commons, he would first take a trip to the Quebec National Assembly. He chose the Liberal Party as it was the only federalist party with any credibility at the time in the province.
Mulcair, upon gaining the nomination from the Quebec Liberal Party to run in his riding, was called a prestige candidate and was presented by Premier Daniel Johnson himself in a news conference. Several Liberal Party members would send letters into the local newspaper, angry over the fact that the nomination meeting was bypassed.
In 1994, he would win his riding as a member of the Quebec Liberal Party. While Mulcair won his seat, his party lost the election. Mulcair would say on election night quote:
“We’ve lost the election it seems, but we did a lot better than Leger and Leger or any of those other pollsters said we would…I will continue representing you and I will continue fighting to keep Quebec a part of Canada.”
During the 1995 referendum, Mulcair was a vocal opponent to the separation of Quebec from Canada.
He would demand an inquiry over allegations of the rejection of thousands of ballots for the No side. In his own riding, 5,450 votes were rejected. Mulcair would state that the Yes side had orchestrated and manipulated electoral fraud. He would state that in his riding, a dozen No side workers were ordered to reject ballots for several reasons, including the X being too dark or too light. Mulcair would state quote:
“I have no hesitation in saying that this was orchestrated, manipulated electoral fraud. It’s obvious there was a pattern of abuse.”
The issue of alleged referendum voter fraud would continue for several years, with Mulcair at the front of it. In 1998, he would state that the electoral law should be amended to remove the word fraudulent, which had caused issues in the courts over whether or not the electoral officer had failed to prove that two deputy returning officers had an intent to commit voter fraud.
In 1998, Mulcair would run again, and would take his riding. In his second provincial election, he took a larger percentage of the votes, 69 per cent, to cruise to another victory.
In 2003, after Jean Charest became the new premier of Quebec, he appointed Mulcair the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.
As a minister, Mulcair supported the Kyoto Protocol, and he would draft an amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include the right to live in a healthy environment. This would pass in 2006.
In early 2006, Mulcair would oppose a condominium development in the ski resort at Mont Orford National Park. On Feb. 27, 2006, Charest removed Mulcair from his portfolio and gave him the lesser government services portfolio. It was widely believed this was punishment for his opposition to the condo development. Charest would tell the media quote:
“Mr. Mulcair preferred to leave the cabinet. I want to thank him for the services he provided at the same time as deploring his decision.”
Initially, Mulcair gave no comment on what had happened. It would be over a week before Mulcair would make a statement, stating he was deeply disappointed and surprised. Mulcair would say in a statement quote:
One year later, on Feb. 20, 2007, Mulcair announced he would not run in the 2007 provincial election. He stated his intention not to run in a one-paragraph news release sent while he and his wife were in France.
As soon as he left the provincial Liberal Party, he began having discussions with the federal NDP, Liberal and Conservative parties. He would also consider going back to practicing law.
Talks with the Conservative Party did not last long due to the party’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.
Mulcair would also not choose the Liberals and in March 2007, he was seen in the front row during a speech by Jack Layton. Many speculated he would go with the NDP as he was seen with Layton and spoken with him only two weeks after choosing not to run in the next election. Layton would state that Mulcair was an old family friend and an expert when it came to the environment. Layton would state that quote:
“Always open to talented individuals like Mr. Mulcair.”
Mulcair for his part would state he still had not decided if he was staying in politics.
One month later, Mulcair announced he would run for the NDP in the next election.
Mulcair would not have to wait for the next election. On June 21, 2007, he would state he would run in a by-election
Mulcair would state quote:
“The timing is good, support for the NDP is getting stronger and stronger and our polls show we’ll be in a four-person race.”
He would win the Sept. 17, 2007, by-election, taking 47 per cent of the vote. After his win, he became the Quebec lieutenant for Layton and the only NDP Member of Parliament from Quebec. Other than from 1988 to 1993, the riding had been won by the Liberals in every election since 1935.
Upon his election, Mulcair became only the second NDP MP to be elected from Quebec. He was preceded by Phil Edmonston in 1990.
Mulcair would state quote:
Sworn into Parliament on Oct. 12, 2007, he became the co-deputy leader of the NDP, and he would help Layton improve the translation of the francophone party materials for use in Quebec.
On Oct. 14, 2008, Mulcair was re-elected in the federal election in his riding by only 400 votes. This made him the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election.
Mulcair would state quote:
“It’s a humbling experience to be given again the chance to serve. I’m thrilled to continue to be a voice here, but also in Quebec for the NDP, a voice for peace, a voice for sustainable development, a voice for the families of today and a voice for change.”
Mulcair would once again win his riding in 2011, as the Orange Wave surged through Quebec and the party took 59 seats.
After the death of Layton on Aug. 22, 2011, Mulcair would state that he was hit hard by the loss of his friend.
He would state quote:
“We are all so much in a state of shock. The only grief we are thinking about is the deep grief we all feel. Jack is a friend. I just lost my good friend. For the moment that’s all that I am concerned about. Everything else can wait for another day.”
Eventually, Mulcair would decide to run for the leadership of the party. He would announce his decision on Oct. 13, 2011, in Montreal.
Soon after he announced he would run for leadership, 60 of 101 NDP MPs put their support behind him. Despite this, there were questions of whether or not he would be chosen by the party to lead it. While he was well-known in Quebec, in the west he was mostly unknown. The only time he had spent in the west were two years when he worked as a lawyer in Manitoba during the 1980s.
Mulcair would state quote:
Mulcair would campaign for leadership on the promise of reinventing the party, increasing its presence in Quebec and attracting more voters from other parts of the country.
In all, there were eight candidates vying for leadership of the party, who came together for the March 24, 2012, leadership convention. By the time the convention came along, Mulcair was the front-runner for leadership of the party.
On the first ballot, Mulcair would take 30 per cent of the vote. Four candidates soon dropped out and endorsed Mulcair. On the second ballot, Mulcair had 38 per cent of the vote, which increased to 43 per cent on the third ballot. Mulcair would win the leadership of the party on the fourth ballot with 57 per cent of the vote.
With his win, he became the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Mulcair would say in his victory speech, quote:
“As Jack Layton said, our greatest accomplishment wasn’t winning seats in Parliament. It was giving people a reason to believe, that you can vote for change…As we unite our party to take on a government that is dismantling the very institutions that we hold dear, we will do so without excluding or demonizing those who disagree with us. We will unite progressives; we will unite our country and together we will work together a more just and better world.”
On April 18, 2012, Mulcair and his wife moved into the residence of the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Things did not start well for Mulcair, who had to deal with some defections from the party in his first year as leader. Bruce Hyer became an independent after he was disciplined for voting in favour of dissolving the Canadian Firearms Registry. Claude Patry would join the Bloc Quebecois after he disagreed with the NDP’s position on amending the Clarity Act.
That being said, within Quebec, there were some polls that showed the NDP were poised to win more than the 59 seats they had won in 2011.
When Justin Trudeau was chosen as the new leader of the Liberal Party in April 2013, the NDP would begin to see its support fall, eventually reaching third place in public opinion. When Olivia Chow left the party to run for mayor of Toronto, her seat was lost to the Liberals in June 2014.
While the party faltered, many praised Mulcair for his abilities as the Opposition to the Conservatives. He was known for his long speeches and quick wit within those speeches. One example of this was when he spoke of economic uncertainty, stating quote:
“The Conservatives are saddling future generations with the biggest environmental, economic and social debt in our history. They are gutting the manufacturing sector and destabilizing the balanced economy that we have built up since the Second World War.”
As the next election approached in 2015, the NDP began to rise in the polls, eventually getting into a dead heat with the Liberals and the Conservatives. The party also had success in getting two bills through to the House of Commons. The first removed taxes on feminine hygiene products and the second banned pay-to-pay fees charged by banks. The second one would eventually be blocked by the Conservatives.
Mulcair would state quote:
“In this year’s election, we’ll offer a choice between change or more of the same. Child care for young families or more tax breaks for the wealthiest few. Accessible education and training or more student debt and record youth unemployment. Income security for our seniors and veterans or more Conservative scandals and mismanagement.”
Heading into the election, Mulcair was the oldest and most educated leader, but he was the one that Canadians knew the least compared to Harper and Trudeau.
The writ for the election was dropped on Aug. 4 and for the next 11 weeks, the longest election period in Canadian history, Canada would going through an election.
Several issues would dominate the campaign but the issue over the niqab became one that would heavily influence the election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had insisted on a ban on the garment at citizenship ceremonies, which the Federal Court of Canada found was unlawful, as did the Federal Court of Appeal. The Conservatives attacked the Parti Quebecois over it, but by 2015, had appeared to adopt the same stance, of banning public servants from wearing the niqab.
The Liberals, NDP and Greens would go against the Conservatives on the matter, while the Bloc would support the Conservatives. Initial polls also showed that most Canadians supported the ban on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.
Thomas Mulcair would attack Harper over the issue during the election, stating quote:
Due to his stance, Mulcair would see NDP support in Quebec nose dive in the second half of the campaign. Mulcair would also prove to be unpopular with NDP supporters, who only 42 per cent of which stated they would want to have a beer or coffee with him.
In the Oct. 19, 2015, election, the Liberals and Justin Trudeau reclaimed the leadership of the country with a huge increase of seats. The party picked up 148 seats, the largest-ever numerical increase by a party in a Canadian election.
The NDP would lose 51 seats, ending the hopes of another Orange Wave. The party would finish with 44 seats to become the Third Party in the House of Commons.
Mulcair would state, quote:
“From the very outset this election has been about change. Tonight, Canadians have turned a page and reject the politics of fear and division.”
After the election, criticism was levied on Mulcair over his decision to run a moderate platform.
In April 2016, the NDP convention was held and Mulcair was criticized by delegates from Alberta over his support of the Leap Manifesto, which was seen as opposing the oil industry. In the convention, 52 per cent of delegates voted for a leadership review within two years.
Mulcair would remain as leader until a replacement was found. On Oct. 1, 2017, Jagmeet Singh succeeded him as leader of the party.
On Dec. 18, 2017, Mulcair resigned from the House of Commons, effective June 2018.
In the summer of 2018, Mulcair would join the political science department as a visiting professor at Universite de Montreal.
Mulcair would also serve as a political analysist on television and radio, something that continues to this day.
Information from Montreal Star, The Montreal Gazette, Macleans, National Post, Wikipedia, Ottawa Citizen, North Bay Nugget, Sault Star, Calgary Herald,
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