Mulcair's last day: Former Opposition leader talks Trump, Trudeau and the NDP's future
Published Thursday, June 14, 2018 8:04PM EDT
Tom Mulcair, the fiery former NDP Opposition Leader who carried his party after Jack Layton’s untimely death but ultimately lost the 2015 election to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, offered optimistic parting words on his last day in the House of Commons.
In his final speech on Thursday, Mulcair thanked his family, his staff and Layton, who he credits with the party’s historic “Orange Wave” in the 2011 election.
“Jack knew that making inroads in Quebec was essential for the NDP to be considered a national party. And he would be so proud to know today that he has such a solid, seasoned team with 16 members from Quebec in this chamber,” he said.
Politicians from every political party praised Mulcair, describing him as a leader of integrity whose tough, rapid-fire questions -- particularly during the Stephen Harper era -- helped speak truth to power.
In his speech, Mulcair alluded to the uncertain state of global politics and urged Canada to uphold its place as an international leader of democratic values.
“We’re all keenly aware that no one can take anything for granted in today’s world,” Mulcair said. “Democracy needs champions, and Canada should be one of those champions.”
In an interview with CTV’s Power Play, Mulcair explained that his message wasn’t just about U.S. President Donald Trump. He said China continues to censor its history, including the violent uprising at Tiananmen Square, and he described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “dangerous” troublemaker who has “no real intention” of bringing democracy to his country.
“So sure, I’m worried about the United States, but I’m not worried about them long-term because they’re much more than Donald Trump and they always will be. But I am worried around the world, and I think Canada should be playing a more active role fighting for democracy.”
Mulcair served as MP for the Montreal riding of Outremont since a 2007 byelection. The seat was long considered a Liberal stronghold, but Mulcair won it three more times. A lawyer by trade, Mulcair entered Quebec provincial politics in 1994 as a Liberal member of the National Assembly.
Looking back on his storied career, Mulcair said his biggest achievement was enacting Quebec’s Sustainable Development Plan, a progressive piece of legislation in 2006 that gave Quebecers the legal right to live in a clean environment.
“The courts have done great things with that, and I’m very, very proud of that,” he said.
Mulcair earned the nickname “Angry Tom” for his spitfire, inquisitional approach as Opposition Leader in the NDP. It’s a reputation Mulcair embraced; one year, he dressed up as a bird from the game “Angry Birds” when he took his grandkids trick-or-treating.
In question period, Mulcair’s questions were often aggressive and to the point -- a tactic he suggests other MPs copy.
“The shorter the question, the less there is to latch onto. If you give a 30-second question with four or five subparts, the person you’re asking it to can just grab one of those parts, and if they mumble some prepared line, nobody’s going to hold it against them,” he said.
Asked if he preferred sparring with Harper or Trudeau, Mulcair didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, Harper by a country mile. He was tough -- and fun.”
At a French-language debate during the 2015 election campaign, Mulcair sparred with Harper over whether or not women should be allowed to wear niqabs during citizenship ceremonies. Harper stood behind banning the garment, while Mulcair accused Harper of playing “a dangerous game.”
“It’s not by depriving these women of their citizenship and their right that you’re going to help them,” Mulcair said at the time.
The issue was particularly divisive in Quebec, and the NDP saw an immediate slump in the polls following the debate.
Mulcair admits that it was a turning point in the election.
“I knew it was going to cost us seats. And it was interesting because that’s the way a campaign works. You have time to talk to some of your senior people, and it was fascinating to talk to people even in downtown Toronto saying look, this is the lay of the land, this is the position we’re going to take, this is the probable result. And their strength and their integrity was inspiring, because they said don’t back down, that’s us, those are our principles.”
Former Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh replaced Mulcair as federal NDP leader last fall. Singh has been criticized for his relatively low profile on Parliament Hill, where he does not hold an elected seat in the House of Commons.
Mulcair said there are rumblings that Singh may run for a byelection in B.C., which he suggested would be wise.
“I think that Canadians have to get to know him better. He’s got tremendous personal qualities, he’s very charismatic, he’s very telegenic. And he’s smart. He grasps stuff quickly. But people just don’t get to see him.”
Asked if he’d offer any pointers for Singh, Mulcair joked that he’s not “his mother-in-law,” but said “if he does call me for advice, I’ll be glad to help him.”
Mulcair is leaving politics to enter a career in academia. He will join the political science department at the Universitie de Montreal, where he will teach students in a new master of environment and sustainable development program.
What his colleagues said
Politicians from across the aisle celebrated Muclair’s last day with speeches that touched on his accomplishments, his character, and, of course, his beard.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt said Muclair served his constituents with “dignity and respect.”
“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 refuse to shave ever,” she said.
“Dare I say it, that not since Abraham Lincoln have such wonderful whiskers become so entwined with a political personality.”
On a more serious note, Raitt said Mulcair earned a reputation for holding other politicians – Conservatives in particular – to account.
“And while the member proved how skilled he was in the House of Commons, mainly at the expense of my former government, that’s not my lasting memory. For me, I will always remember the member for two things: his humour, and his humanity.”
Minister of Transport Marc Garneau thanked Mulcair for “his profound dedication and service to our country.”
“This individual has made a remarkable impact on the lives of Canadians, particularly in Quebec, and has challenged governments to strive to ensure that every Canadian has an opportunity to succeed. There is no doubt that we are all the stronger for it,” he said.
“I feel like it might even be a little bit quiet after his departure,” he joked.
NDP MP Guy Caron praised Mulcair’s ability to connect with everyday people and make them feel “not only that he understands them, but that he will fight for them. And fight he did.”
“His prosecution day after day after day of the Stephen Harper government has been a hallmark of Parliamentary history,” Caron said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that “the bravest thing we ever saw” was Mulcair’s famous answer on the niqab during the French-language debate.
“And I want to thank the honourable member again for taking a strong stand on the very divisive niqab debate.”