Mul­cair must prove he’s fit to lead

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Tim Harper Tim Harper is a na­tional affairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. tharper@thes­tar.ca Twit­ter:@nut­graf1

When Thomas Mul­cair was last squarely in the pub­lic eye, he was re­treat­ing into the back­ground af­ter a painful cam­paign.

Mon­day, he starts an­other tough cam­paign. This time, in­stead of seek­ing to form a govern­ment, he will be cam­paign­ing to keep his job as NDP leader.

That is, if he wants it, and all in­di­ca­tions are that he does.

Yes, this is the NDP, the party which has no his­tory of eat­ing its lead­ers.

But Mul­cair was go­ing to make this a dif­fer­ent NDP. No more moral vic­to­ries, no more con­science of Par­lia­ment.

He was cho­sen to helm the party in 2012 be­cause he was sup­posed to win, to take the next step af­ter Jack Lay­ton lifted the party to the top of the stair­well with the door of power within reach.

In­stead, he stum­bled back­ward down those stairs and now it would be some­what ironic if he had in fact re­mod­elled the party to the point that it be­gan act­ing like the other two more tra­di­tional par­ties, where de­feat is placed on the shoul­ders of the leader.

Start­ing with a Mon­day press con­fer­ence, then a cau­cus re­treat and cul­mi­nat­ing in the party con­ven­tion in Ed­mon­ton in April where his lead­er­ship is sub­ject to re­view, Mul­cair es­sen­tially has to reap­ply for the job.

There is much more in­ter­nal dis­con­tent with his lead­er­ship and the party’s elec­toral per­for­mance than party of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged.

Con­ver­sa­tions with New Democrats in the past week re­veal that there is no or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to Mul­cair. No one ap­pears to be build­ing a nascent lead­er­ship team.

But some cur­rent and for­mer MPs are be­ing courted by labour and pro­gres­sives who would like to see change at the top.

Mul­cair will have to be­gin by con­vinc­ing cau­cus he is aware of the mis­takes made in the cam­paign, when the party went from of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion, to lead­ing in na­tional polls at the out­set to third-place party by the end of the cam­paign.

It went from 103 seats in 2011 to 44 in 2015 and again holds its tra­di­tional perch as the coun­try’s third party.

He will have to show he can work as a team player, some said.

Oth­ers sug­gest he must lose the ten­dency to dou­ble down when cor­nered, whether it was a vow to bal­ance the bud­get in his first year as prime min­is­ter or his con­tention, in sell­ing Se­nate abo­li­tion, that he had never met a sen­a­tor do­ing valu­able par­lia­men­tary work.

He must ac­knowl­edge the re­build in front of the party, he must prove he can bring pro­gres­sives back into the NDP fold and he has to show he has a plan to be­come the true pro­gres­sive op­tion both in the Com­mons and in the coun­try.

This is a man who has been dubbed the great­est op­po­si­tion leader in gen­er­a­tions, a man many thought had the gravitas, the political skills and the in­tel­li­gence to be­come a prime min­is­ter.

But now, if he takes sup­port for granted on the way to Ed­mon­ton, he will stum­ble and he will not win the back­ing of the party, those who spoke to the Star say.

The fact that no one would go on the record — and some went out their way to praise some facets of his lead­er­ship — show there is cer­tainly no in­cip­i­ent re­volt.

Mul­cair largely has the sup­port of his Que­bec cau­cus and none of the names be­ing bandied about as fu­ture lead­ers has the Que­bec cred­i­bil­ity of the cur­rent leader.

MPs Nathan Cullen and Peter Ju­lian and for­mer MP Megan Les­lie are all ly­ing low, any­way.

There may be a sense Mul­cair is on pro­ba­tion, but no one is un­der­min­ing him.

There will be plenty of blame to spread around when a post­mortem is com­pleted later this win­ter.

There are some who feel the ef­fort to soften the Mul­cair im­age ac­tu­ally sapped him of his au­then­tic­ity.

“Tom did a lot of great things in the cam­paign, but there were a lot of mis­takes made dur­ing the cam­paign,’’ said one MP who sur­vived last Oc­to­ber. “I’m not blam­ing Tom. Yet.’’ Since the Ed Broad­bent era, ev­ery NDP leader has de­parted on his or her own terms.

Au­drey McLaugh­lin re­signed af­ter one fu­tile cam­paign in which the NDP lost of­fi­cial party sta­tus.

Her suc­ces­sor, Alexa McDonough, went to the well twice, re­gain­ing party sta­tus but lit­tle else, com­plet­ing one of the worst decades in the party’s his­tory.

Jack Lay­ton fi­nally made the long-awaited break­through for the party on his fourth at­tempt.

Mul­cair’s not get­ting four tries.

He will have to work to en­sure he gets a do-over in 2019.

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