CUP Quebec Bureau Chief
MONTREAL — Don’t expect a definitive statement anytime soon on Thomas Mulcair’s future in the NDP leadership race.
“It’s a question of weeks, not days,” the party’s deputy leader told a group of about 60 supporters and Concordia University students at a speaking event in Montreal on Sept. 16.
He made the comments the day after a three-day caucus meeting finished in Quebec City. The question about his leadership and potential backing from the other MPs was a hot topic at the conference.
Mulcair shared a few reasons why his decision to declare or deny a leadership bid is not forthcoming.
“It’s simply because, first of all, a lot us who were close to [Jack Layton] are still in a state of shock. And I still have a lot of other responsibilities as the parliamentary house leader,” he explained.
Mulcair, ever the politician, did not waste the extra attention he was receiving as a result of the leadership race.
“You’ll hear from us in the next few weeks, but in the meantime it doesn’t stop us from selling membership cards,” he quipped.
But as Mulcair mulls over his decision, a second candidate in the race has tossed his hat into the ring, potentially dividing Mulcair’s support at home. Former Cree leader and northern Quebec Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash made his announcement Sept. 16, dashing the belief that he would back the only other candidate at the time, party president Brian Topp.
Topp, who is not an elected MP, has already begun campaigning across the country. He has received high-profile endorsements from former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, former national NDP leader Ed Broadbent and current MP Françoise Boivin.
Mulcair downplayed his chances, citing electoral math. He told reporters that he is not sure about a bid because statistically, a Quebec candidate might not pull a lot of support. Only about 2,000 out of the 85,000 to 95,000 NDP members nationwide are from Quebec, as there is no provincial NDP party like in other provinces.
Regardless, a handful of Quebec MPs stated last week that they would support a leadership bid by Mulcair, including Jamie Nicholls, François Lapointe, Claude Patry, Marc-André Morin, Robert Aubin and Pierre Nantel. A national Leger marketing poll released Monday found that 17 per cent of NDP supporters would back Mulcair. In Quebec, the poll found that 50 per cent of supporters backed Mulcair.
After the talk at Concordia, Mulcair predicted that one of the biggest challenges for the NDP as official opposition this parliamentary session would be battling the omnibus crime bill being proposed by the Conservatives.
“It’s going to be a Conservative party up to its usual tricks,” he said, saying the Tories would “take apart” the environment department and the civil service. “It’s going to be up to us to be a strong opposition to stand up to them.”
During his 30-minute speech at Concordia, Mulcair shared his thoughts on two of the biggest challenges facing Canada: sustainability and youth apathy.
One student questioned Mulcair about a potential merger with the Liberal party, and whether it would be make sense to “unite the left.” Mulcair received a round of applause when he replied, “We did unite the left.”
The event was organized by Concordia’s Political Science Students Association. According to the group’s president, Pier-Luc Therrien Peloquin, Mulcair’s appearance was booked around the date of the last federal election in May, and not after Layton’s passing in late August.
Though the event was organized by the PSSA, student club NDP Concordia had two booths at the event.
Hannah McCormick, who was elected as club president the previous day, said that the group has seen a resurgence of interest from students since the “orange crush” that swept many NDP candidates from Quebec into national office in the May 2011 federal elections — four of them students themselves.
While the group did not have official club status last year, four people joined in May and the group has a long list of interested students.
And according to Concordia student Catherine Hamé, co-president of the NDP’s provincial youth wing, the same renewed interest is taking place at the NDP club at McGill University.
Photo: Sarah Deshaies/CUP