Mul­cair feels pinch in Que­bec

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Chan­tal Hébert Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional affairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

Even as NDP Leader Thomas Mul­cair launches a bid for a man­date to lead the party for an­other four years and a se­cond elec­tion cam­paign, his Que­bec base is slip­ping from un­der him.

If Mul­cair re­lin­quished his Outremont seat to­mor­row, the NDP would be hard-pressed to hold the Mon­treal rid­ing against a born-again Lib­eral party.

The same is true of many of the other NDP seats in Que­bec.

It is no ac­ci­dent that most of the New Democrats who sur­vived the last elec­tion had higher pro­files than the rest of the Que­bec pack.

That and a four-way split in the vote rather than the party la­bel earned 16 of them a ticket to the new Par­lia­ment.

To be fair, none of Mul­cair’s 2012 lead­er­ship chal­lengers would have done as well in Que­bec last fall.

But are those 16 seats rea­son enough to be­lieve Mul­cair re­mains the best choice to lead the NDP to a stronger out­come in Que­bec and across Canada in four years’ time?

As things stand to­day the ev­i­dence is, at best, in­con­clu­sive.

At this junc­ture, Mul­cair’s case for stay­ing on seems to boil down to two ba­sic ar­gu­ments, nei­ther of which is com­pelling.

The first is his Que­bec con­nec­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence. But as the re­sult of the elec­tion demon­strated, those as­sets are over­rated.

Post-elec­tion, Mul­cair re­mains a well-re­spected fig­ure in Que­bec.

But then, so was Gilles Du­ceppe and look where that got the for­mer Bloc Québé­cois leader last Oc­to­ber.

For all of Mul­cair’s strengths, the NDP — on his watch — has re­mained a bit player in his home prov­ince. Justin Trudeau’s cur­rent post-elec­tion hon­ey­moon is an ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor but not the root cause of the sit­u­a­tion.

The party’s self-im­posed dis­cre­tion in the face of most of the de­bates that have been cen­tral to Que­bec pol­i­tics over the past five years is largely re­spon­si­ble for its low pro­file.

Un­der Mul­cair, the NDP steered clear of the 2012 Maple Spring and the so­cial un­rest that at­tended it.

The party kept as much dis­tance as pos­si­ble from the

“Mul­cair al­ways fit the frame of po­ten­tial prime min­is­ter bet­ter than that of NDP leader. With that frame now twice re­moved from the party; with a fed­eral govern­ment in place that many New Democrats are com­fort­able with, he has yet to ar­tic­u­late a ra­tio­nale other than his own pref­er­ence for stay­ing on.”

de­bate over the Parti Québé­cois’ con­tro­ver­sial se­cu­ral­ism char­ter.

The New Democrats con­trib­uted lit­tle to the pro­longed con­ver­sa­tion that led to the in­tro­duc­tion of med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide in the prov­ince’s end-oflife care pro­to­col, and it re­mained on the side­lines of the pipe­line is­sue.

Even as the party was mak­ing a na­tional child-care plan mod­elled on the Que­bec ex­am­ple a cen­tral plank of its fed­eral plat­form, it looked the other way as Philippe Couil­lard’s govern­ment clipped the wings of the pop­u­lar pro­gram.

Un­til last fall, the sense of many Que­bec vot­ers that they needed a foil against a dis­trusted Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment kept Mul­cair on the prov­ince’s radar. With that per­ceived threat out of the way, the party has yet to ar­tic­u­late a rai­son d’être per­sua­sive enough to sus­tain the in­ter­est of an eas­ily dis­tracted au­di­ence.

And that par­tic­u­lar prob­lem is not Que­bec-spe­cific.

The other of­ten-heard ar­gu­ment for keep­ing Mul­cair at the helm is that there is no ob­vi­ous con­tender for the suc­ces­sion.

But if that is true then it amounts to a dev­as­tat­ing judg­ment on the next gen­er­a­tion of New Democrats.

Hav­ing watched the likes of for­mer MP Megan Les­lie — to name just one New Demo­crat — in ac­tion, I find it hard to be­lieve that some­one like her would not be up to the task of lead­ing the party to re­newal.

At the end of the day, most New Democrats are prob­a­bly not an­gry enough at Mul­cair for los­ing the elec­tion to en­gage in the di­vi­sive bat­tle of wills re­quired to push a leader out the door.

(Things would have been dif­fer­ent if Mul­cair had lost to Stephen Harper.)

But if the past is any in­di­ca­tion there is no di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween wrestling a vote of con­fi­dence on a con­ven­tion floor and lead­ing a party to a stel­lar per­for­mance in a gen­eral elec­tion.

Mul­cair al­ways fit the frame of po­ten­tial prime min­is­ter bet­ter than that of NDP leader.

With that frame now twice re­moved from the party; with a fed­eral govern­ment in place that many New Democrats are com­fort­able with, he has yet to ar­tic­u­late a ra­tio­nale other than his own pref­er­ence for stay­ing on.

His first me­dia ap­pear­ance of the new year on Mon­day did lit­tle to ad­vance that ob­jec­tive.

Mul­cair

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