Stephen Harper’s signature bills always look their best at first blush.

Only when devilish details are exposed and word meanings put under a microscope is there the flutter of red flags over proposed legislation.

So, at first blush, Tom Mulcair appears to have done considerable damage to NDP hopes of preserving even Official Opposition status in the electoral showdown to come.

He has unleashed a barrage of fear and loathing at the government’s new anti-terrorism bill, insisting it would end up with spies lurking behind every grassy knoll.

Trouble is, terrorist events around the world have added favorable optics to the urgency of this legislation. The polls have gone hot on Harper as a result. And the Liberals have caved to public opinion, signing on as Tory tagalongs even before the bill was released.Anti

Mulcair, for a while anyway, looked to be an island of legislative defiance surrounded by a sea of indifference to the jihadist threat looming on the horizon.   

But now he has prestigious company in the worrywart category. Four Prime Ministers, backed by former justice ministers, Supreme Court justices and privacy commissioners, are piling on to demand closer supervision of Canada’s spy agencies.

As Mulcair’s parliamentary pounding continues against some very loosey-goosey wording in the bill, legitimate warnings about giving spy agencies the right to disrupt Canadians on almost any pretext could start to resonate in the real world.

The optics will quickly worsen for the government.

They will undoubtedly put tight curbs on debate. And they’ll likely decline all opposition amendments to improve a bill they believe was parliamentary perfection upon arrival.

That’s why Mulcair’s contrarian stand could be a defining moment during his first campaign as NDP leader. He could still end up on the wrong side in the court of public opinion, where Quebec voters might crush the orange wave to a ripple.

But he deserves credit for putting principle ahead of politics and taking a stand against the current wave of polling.

In nine months, this could prove to be the beginning of his end - or the start of a new beginning.