Does Mul­cair as­pire to lead Canada, or just Que­bec?


Float­ing water acts as a weight­less lens in front of Cana­dian as­tro­naut Chris Had­field in the Unity mod­ule of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in this photo taken Jan. 21. Had­field will speak to 200 ele­men­tary stu­dents at the Canada Avi­a­tion and Space Mu­seum at noon Wed­nes­day, which will be car­ried live on the Cana­dian Space Agency web­site.

‘Com­pe­tent, re­spon­si­ble pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tors” are Tom Mul­cair’s favourite words in the English lan­guage. Ask him about the Habs or the Ex­pos or the price of cheese. He’ll squeeze The Words in some­how. He wants you to know he rep­re­sents Joe Six Pack — not just the mourn­ful-look­ing 20-some­things sip­ping triple espresso and de­bat­ing Marx in Toronto’s An­nex or the Vieux Mon­treal, or el­derly veter­ans of the Span­ish Civil War.

But is he really a na­tional leader? On the face of it, cer­tainly. He’s the of­fi­cially elected leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Op­po­si­tion. In 2011 his New Demo­cratic Party ran can­di­dates in all 308 fed­eral rid­ings. In 2015 it will run can­di­dates in all 338 rid­ings. In that sense, to­day’s NDP is quite dif­fer­ent from, say, the Bloc Québé­cois in the era of Lu­cien Bouchard, which only ran can­di­dates in Que­bec. Bouchard, of course, wanted to de­stroy Canada, which is why it would have made lit­tle sense for him to raise his ban­ner in Bar­rie, Ont. But I di­gress. Here’s the ques­tion: Why would Mul­cair, com­pe­tent prime min­is­ter in wait­ing, al­low one of his MPs — for rea­sons not ap­par­ent or even dis­cernible to any­one whose head is not in­ti­mately em­bed­ded in the deep­est re­cesses of Que­bec’s po­lit­i­cal mi­cro­cul­ture — to res­ur­rect Bouchard’s dream? Be­cause that is de facto the re­sult of NDP MP Craig Scott’s pro­posed scrap­ping of the Chré­tien-era Clar­ity Act, in favour of a new ver­sion hear­ken­ing to the NDP’s Sher­brooke Dec­la­ra­tion, al­low­ing for sep­a­ra­tion af­ter a vote of 50 per cent, plus one. At a stroke, this pro­posal breathes new life into the idea that one day, some day, La Pa­trie can be re­al­ized. Why, on earth, would a na­tional leader do that?

You could ar­gue he was driven to it by a resur­gent Bloc Québé­cois, breath­ing down his neck. In­deed it was the Bloc’s mo­tion, call­ing for a straight-up re­peal of the Clar­ity Act, that os­ten­si­bly prompted Scott’s bill. But there’s a wrin­kle in that ex­pla­na­tion: The Bloc cur­rently holds, oh yes, four seats. It lacks of­fi­cial party sta­tus. Its new leader is a former Que­bec in­dus­try min­is­ter who lost his own seat in the last elec­tion and whose speeches make Gilles Du­ceppe look like Win­ston Churchill. This de­tracts, some­what, from the sense of an im­mi­nent Bloc takeover.

Ah, but what of Justin? Trudeau the Younger is nip­ping at Mul­cair’s heels in Que­bec, surely. Only by currying favour with the le­gions of soft na­tion­al­ists threat­en­ing to flock to Trudeau’s ban­ner, as­sum­ing he be­comes Lib­eral leader, can Mul­cair hope to beat back this Red Tide. Ex­cept that Trudeau is anath­ema to soft na­tion­al­ists. He thinks Bill 101, Que­bec’s French lan­guage law, is fine as it is, and dis­misses talk of new con­sti­tu­tional “ac­com­mo­da­tions” to “in­clude” Que­bec, based on the novel ar­gu­ment that Que­bec is al­ready in­cluded. Trudeau cer­tainly presents a threat to Mul­cair — but not one founded in any way on Que­bec nationalism.

Well, then: What about Que­bec Pre­mier Pauline Marois? Newly elected last Septem­ber, the hard-charg­ing, rad­i­cal stan­dard-bearer of a crest­ing sep­a­ratist wave — ah, wait, that doesn’t work, ei­ther. Marois is a man­age­ri­ally in­clined mod­er­ate, head­ing a weak mi­nor­ity. She has ac­knowl­edged she has no man­date to press for an in­de­pen­dent Que­bec or even hold an­other sovereignty ref­er­en­dum. The ris­ing power in Que­bec pol­i­tics is Fran­cois Le­gault’s Coali­tion Avenir Que­bec, which is fed­er­al­ist. Que­bec’s un­der­ly­ing de­mo­graphic trends — both the ag­ing of the Québé­cois “de souche” (old-stock), who have long formed the back­bone of the sovereignty move­ment, and im­mi­gra­tion by al­lo­phones — favour fed­er­al­ism.

Here’s where that leaves us: There is no ob­vi­ous or com­pelling rea­son, not a threat from the right, or from the left, or from the cen­tre, or from Trudeau, or from sep­a­ratists, or from a pro­vin­cial government, or even one based on polls — to jus­tify why Mul­cair would take this step now. It makes no sense, even within the rubric of Que­bec’s in­ter­minable ex­is­ten­tial de­bates. Nei­ther the Clar­ity Act nor Que­bec sep­a­ra­tion are press­ing is­sues now for any ma­jor­ity, any­where. The Act, au­thored by Stéphane Dion in the af­ter­math of a ra­zor-thin 1995 ref­er­en­dum vic­tory that would have thrown the coun­try into chaos had it gone a bit the other way, was good pol­icy. It was wise. It is over­whelm­ingly sup­ported in Canada out­side Que­bec, and by a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity within Que­bec.

All of which ap­pears to lead to this con­clu­sion: Mul­cair, as he has shown be­fore with his Dutch Disease rhetoric, has the in­stincts of a pro­vin­cial leader, fo­cused in­tently on main­tain­ing a pro­vin­cial power base. That’s good work, if you can get it. But it’s not so un­like what the Bloc Québé­cois did, in its day.

Why, if this is the case, would the New Democrats think to run can­di­dates in Bar­rie, Ont., or Bran­don, Man., or Red Deer, Alta.? A na­tional party should see west of the Ot­tawa River. A na­tional leader cer­tainly should.


Michael Den Tandt asks, Why would NDP leader Tom Mul­cair al­low one of his MPs to raise the spec­tre of Que­bec sep­a­ra­tion?

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