Canada.com March 25, 2012. 1:54 pm
Michael Den Tandt
TORONTO – Speaking at length and without notes (or teleprompter), Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair on Sunday outlined a plan to develop what he said will be a “structured,” tough, but respectful approach to opposing and eventually defeating the Harper Conservative government.
If there were any doubts about Mulcair’s ability to think on his feet, those can now be safely laid to rest. The new NDP leader took questions from reporters for over 30 minutes, firing off detailed, lengthy answers in French and English by turns. The man has an extraordinary capacity to pack a great deal of information into a very few seconds.
The presser offered a first glimpse into how Mulcair intends to heal the personal wounds opened up by a divisive and lengthy leadership campaign in which his principal opponent, party strategist Brian Topp, sought to portray him as insufficiently loyal to traditional social-democratic values.
Mulcair spoke graciously and with apparent sincerity about Topp, saying he hopes the party will continue to benefit from his talents and that he’d be delighted if Topp were to run for a seat in the House under the NDP banner. “Nothing would please me more,” he said.
Mulcair also pointedly restated, as he did Saturday night, that BC MP Libby Davies, who had been his co-deputy leader in the Layton era, will continue as deputy leader. Another deputy leader will also be appointed, Mulcair said, without naming that person.
Former Layton Chief of Staff Anne McGrath, meantime, has agreed to serve Mulcair in that function “during the transition,” the new Opposition leader said. What McGrath’s role will be beyond that remains unclear. Mulcair’s tone, however, seemed calculated fears of a purge at party headquarters.
Mulcair said he intends to take a gradual approach to assuming control of the party, adding that he and interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel, who took over the job following Layton’s death last year, would simply be “switching seats” in the House of Commons. He implied the party will spend the next few weeks in transition, in preparation for a two-year political campaign against the Conservative government that will begin in the fall. That said, he’ll need to come up with a response almost immediately to the next federal budget, to be handed down in four days.
Mulcair reiterated that he intends for the NDP to appeal to young people who haven’t voted in the past, as well as disaffected Liberals, in an attempt to broaden the party’s tent. Speaking at length in French, he outlined how he intends to combat the resurgent Bloc Quebecois, presenting the NDP as the only national party that allows Quebecers to thrive as Quebecers within Canada.
In all, Mulcair’s performance this morning will give scant comfort to his opponents, be they Liberals, Conservatives or Bloquistes.
Whatever his flaws may be, and whatever the NDP’s ideological blind spots may be (they are considerable, in my view), Mulcair will be no pushover. He is intelligent, articulate and confident – and he has a plan.