Thomas Mulcair is deputy leader of the New Democratic Party and MP for the riding of Outremont. He is only the second NDP MP to ever be elected from Quebec, after Phil Edmonston of Chambly in 1990. Mulcair also served in the Quebec National Assembly for 10 years as a Liberal. He was a member of Jean Charest’s cabinet until 2006 when he resigned from his post over environmental concerns. Afterwards, Mulcair was courted by Jack Layton and the NDP. He ran as a member of the NDP in a by-election in Outremont in November 2007 and won. Mulcair received degrees in common law and civil law from McGill in 1977 and once taught at Concordia. He is a lawyer by profession.
C: The results in Outremont were considerably tighter than in the September 2007 by-election. Why do you think that was?
By-elections are a very particular beast. They bring out in people a desire for change that they can express extemporaneously but not necessarily in the long term. The important goal for us was to offer top service to the population. This office was humming all year on files on immigration, employment insurance, federal pensions, etc. I was very present in the community, much more than any of my predecessors. By the end of the first year, I wanted people to know that I was their MP and that worked.
All in all, we won comfortably. But I think that in a by-election, one, you may have more people staying home. There was a lower voter turnout. The ones who want change are more determined voters.
C: Do you have anything you’d like to say to Montreal’s Liberal voters?
I think Montreal Liberal voters are going to be astonished that Stéphane Dion has just decided to stay on as party leader [until the convention]. I think Liberal voters who are dissatisfied with their poor performance should come to realize [the Liberals] don’t have much to offer. The Liberals signed Kyoto and then did nothing. They signed it for public relations purposes. That’s absolutely typical of the Liberals to have a position for their own benefit but not the benefit of the population.
C: What sort of message do you think voters sent in this election?
For the NDP, and us they sent a message that they want change and they want progressive change. The NDP’s share of the vote in Quebec went up 60 per cent, which is tremendous for us. I was disappointed to be the only NDP-er elected, but I console myself with the fact that there are now about 15 seats in Quebec that have a base similar to the one I had when I won in the by-election in November. So we’ll build from that.
The NDP’s share of seats in the House of Commons has been increasing steadily in the past few elections. It increased 50 per cent in 2006 and 25 per cent last week. Yet the NDP’s share of the popular vote increased by less than two per cent in 2006 and by less than one per cent in this election.
C: How much longer can the NDP try to gain seats without expanding its base of support?
That’s a very good question. In fact if it were not for the substantial progress of several hundred thousand votes in Quebec, the vote in the rest of Canada actually dropped. So there’s no question we have to work very hard to reach out to a wider base. We have to make sure people understand the NDP is not only a progressive party but a party comprised of people capable of administering a country.
C: The Green Party, while not winning any seats during this election, did emerge as a significant force nationally. How is the NDP going to deal in the future with the Greens potentially taking votes away from it?
I take issue with your analysis that the Green Party is a force nationally. It’s not, and its vote in Quebec decreased. They had their one shot of participating in the debates and you’re never going to see them in the debates again. That’s over.
The Greens are a feeling; they are an emotion. People are free to vote their emotion, but they now know as a fact that the Greens will never elect a single person. I would strongly suggest that anybody who’s interested in doing something for the environment take a look at the NDP because we have seats and we can do something.
C: Any possibility of a merger on the left?
You don’t need to merge with something that doesn’t exist, and the Greens don’t exist.
C: Do you trust the Conservatives’ promise to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by 2012? What do you have to say to critics of the NDP’s calls for an immediate withdrawal?
I don’t trust it at all. I don’t believe it for one second. And I don’t trust the Liberals not to back a further extension. During my by-election in 2007 the Liberals swore up and down that their policy was withdrawal from Afghanistan by February 2009.
Canada can help build a comprehensive peace process and use all its credibility and good faith as a peacekeeper, peace-builder and peacemaker. The NDP will fight to put an end to this wrongheaded aggressive war and build peace in the region.
Despite Canada’s recent economic growth, there is still a nagging impulse amongst younger skilled workers to seek jobs in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. How can the NDP convince Canadian-elected graduates to remain in Canada and apply their skills here?
By growing the ability of the middle-class to share in the wealth we are creating in Canada, we’re going to make it possible for someone that’s got a skill set that would situate him at a certain quality of life in the United States to achieve here. We have to have it better for him here.
Also, there’s been strong economic pressure to lower wages and working conditions at the same time that the economy was growing. The average working family in Canada has been working 200 hours a year more to tread water. That for us is an extremely important concern and the NDP are the only ones who are addressing it. The Bloc can’t do anything about it. The Conservatives don’t want to do anything about it. And the Liberals never did anything about it while they were there.