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?