Canada Mulcair and the NDP are winners, despite not winning: Richler

14:15  02 october  2017
14:15  02 october  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 19. © Sean Kilpatrick NDP Leader Tom Mulcair stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 19. "Mulcair’s combative nature made Canadian resistance to Harper and his loathsome team possible in the dark years," writes Noah Richler.

Two years ago, running for the NDP in the Toronto GTA, it was my job to shill for Thomas Mulcair and the direction in which he was pushing the party, no matter what I felt. Not an issue; I agreed with Mulcair almost categorically and believed then, as I do now, him to be a smart, decent and honourable man. Mulcair was always going to be hard to elect; he was not Rachel Notley, he was not Megan Leslie — or, of course, the late Jack Layton, elevated through death to a mythic stratum.

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Mulcair was not, fundamentally, appealing. But his defending, in the fateful Québec debate, Zunera Ishaq’s right to wear the niqab at her citizenship ceremony, was the single most tragically heroic moment of the entire election. Mulcair knew it would cost him and the party even then, but did so anyway. You may not agree with him, but what he did in such circumstances is the very definition of principle and integrity.

Sure, his campaign team made some bad decisions, but hindsight shows that even the “right” decisions might not have a made a whole lot of difference. Canadians wanted something — well, I can’t write “something new,” as what we have is a reiteration of a former mania — but at the very least to be refreshed. They wanted to be in a happier place. They wanted to like their government, and for their government to like them. They wanted something different than either Stephen Harper or Mulcair appeared to offer.

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Many times, looking back to October 2015, the election strikes me as something of a Greek play in which Harper and Mulcair are two adversaries wrestling themselves to the forest floor, and Trudeau is the plucky young thing who skips in and makes off with the lyre. That’s how change happens, sometimes. The old guard, to paraphrase Trudeau in his immodest Post-election brag to BBC Radio 4, is left in the dust.

That said, Mulcair strikes me as having been an exceptional leader and I believe we shall miss him. Had Justin Trudeau been the leader of the opposition during the last government, the likelihood is he would have been bullied in Parliament just as his Liberal Party predecessors Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion were, though I suppose it is also possible that an older man’s humiliating Trudeau might have won the younger man favour and done in the Conservatives at the polls anyway.

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But it is unquestionably the truth that Mulcair contained Stephen Harper tirelessly, disinterested as our media was in letting the Canadian public know that. And it is in the pattern of history that great leaders, by virtue of doing their work so well, often bring a community — a people, a nation — to a point in time in which the very qualities that landed them in their vaunted position are rendered redundant by their success.

Mulcair’s combative nature made Canadian resistance to Harper and his loathsome team — Chris Alexander, Jason Kenney, Kellie Leitch, Vic Toews, more — possible in the dark years. And for Canadians to elect someone else when the moment came to put an end to them.

Mulcair was Ahab to Harper’s whale and went down with him, and unfortunately all a majority of NDP members and an exhausted press could see was defeat.

At the NDP’s Edmonton convention in April 2016, Mulcair was treated shabbily, though I imagine a part of him must have been relieved not to have to lead a party so hysterically at loose ends that so many at the grassroots were (and still are) desperate for a Canadian Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn solution. Both losers. Both cranky old white men. Some example.

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The truth of the last election is that Trudeau was our Corbyn or Sanders; he was the seemingly unelectable anti-establishment figure rallying the young and those who’d lost faith in government. We don’t need a Corbyn or a Sanders here.

What we do need is the NDP and a made-in-Canada way forward for the party that, more than any other, represents those needing representation the most. In the wake of the 2015 NDP loss, media pundits were near unanimous in asking, ludicrously, what is the point of the NDP.

In recent weeks, Conrad Black, Rosie DiManno, John Ibbitson and Robin Sears, would you believe, have all found ways to dismiss NDP relevance: the party is not fit to govern, won’t ever win anyway; their leadership campaign is tedious and protracted.

But here’s the rub: the NDP is winning anyway. All an election victory would do is make the win official. We rely on medicare, discuss (feebly) a national child care and pharmacare plan and a living wage. We are pushing the nation-to-nation relationship with First Peoples. We are (ostensibly) demanding better standards for labour, and protecting unions, in the NAFTA discussions.

These are all NDP ideas. And if the Liberals did win the last election, as many argue, by moving to the left, it was ground the NDP had staked out already and the Liberals would never have paid attention to if the “third” party hadn’t cultivated it in the first place.

The NDP is so much more than — according to that pat phrase (so objectionable because it is diminishing) — the “conscience” of Parliament. It is Canada’s party of invention, already influencing our politics so much.

Go NDP go, I say, and kudos to Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron, Jagmeet Singh — and Tom — for what you have already given.

Noah Richler is a Toronto writer. His latest book is The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

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