Mulcair caught between a rock and a French place

Image via Flickr
Image via Flickr

Political greatness, be it in Canada or anywhere else, is not something that’s easily achievable. It requires a mix of intention and charisma, the kind of persona that will make you a memorable figure.

Ask Thomas Mulcair: he’s clearly striving to establish himself, occupying his position as the predictable yet precarious choice of leader to follow in Jack Layton’s footsteps as the head of the New Democratic Party. Mulcair has been left to contend with the delicate balance that now exists in the party that took Quebec by storm during the 2011 federal elections.

This past week he’s also been extremely “media friendly.”

For what it’s worth, having the spotlight shone on him was somewhat inevitable: he is leading a party that’s between a rock and a hard place. On one hand he finds himself defending the Quebecers that helped put him in office and his patria, taking their side with understanding, attempting to underline their uniqueness. On the other hand he’s also contending with the rest of Canada, attempting to secure his party’s position as the official opposition in the face of Stephen Harper’s Conservative party.

As Thomas Walkom underlined in his column on the topic in The Toronto Star, the NDP’s stance on Quebec has been “friendlier” since 2005, when Mr. Layton decided to take a position against the Clarity Act. This act essentially stipulates that, in the case of any referendum held inside Quebec on the topic of sovereignty, the House of Commons has the right to decide whether the question that is being asked is deemed “clear enough.” It also warrants that it has the right to consider whether or not the result of such a referendum represents the vote of a “clear majority.”

Needless to say, the Clarity Act is not very popular amongst separatist Quebecers, and federal politicians have done their best not to remind us of its existence.

So this week, when Mr. Mulcair brought the subject up (with Marois abroad in Scotland), there was some notable controversy. Why not just let it be? After all, if it wants to maintain its positions, the NDP must strive to become “Canada friendly,” appealing to that considerable portion of Canadian voters that believe that Quebec should not be granted any preferential political visibility or treatment. In fact, in an editorial published by Conrad Black in the Jan. 26 edition of the National Post, Mulcair was framed as promoting an “odious species of federalism,” which encourages a vision of a fragmented Canada. In reality, the leader of the New Democrats is simply looking out for his electorate, which is exactly what a politician should be doing.

The bottom line, it seems, is that Canada will forever be a land of compromise so long as Quebec is part of it. Normally, the leader of the opposition would be expected to just deal with it. The optimist in us, however, secretly hopes that Mulcair will take the opportunity to stray from the path, supporting the people who elected him and disregarding the notion of politicians being pleasers. After all, he does have the home turf advantage, be it if for a short while. So why not use it to make himself memorable?


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