By Frank Moher
The NDP’s cashiering of Tom Mulcair as leader is both deeply unfair and plainly essential, at least for anyone who wants to see the Party remain able to influence public policy, and maybe one day win an election.
As has been widely remarked, Mulcair was for four years one of the best opposition leaders Parliament had ever seen, battering the increasingly hapless Tories with nothing more than logic and that “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” stare of his. But his superb performance in the House became his undoing on the election trail. We had seen the real Mulcair, and the fake-smiley one that emerged during the campaign was so clearly a feint, a misguided attempt to convince us that playing Angry Tom was just his day job, and here was the real, sweet, Cuddly Tom, that it became pretty much unbearable to watch.
He was at it again during his speech to the NDP convention on Sunday . . .
. . . when what he should have done was fixed the delegates with that deadly glare, the one where he looks like he’s shooting lasers out of his eyes, and said, “Look, I’m the reason we won all those seats in Quebec in 2011, and the only reason we didn’t form government this time is because I didn’t cave on the niqab issue. You think you can do better with someone else? Go for it.” It wouldn’t have worked, and it wouldn’t have been entirely true, but at least he would have gone out as real Angry Tom rather than fake, Cuddly, Unelectable Tom.
But another factor was at work in Edmonton, and it had to do with another angry guy, who only smiles when he means it. Bernie Sanders has awakened a whole generation of Americans to socialism, and pushed the conversation far enough left that he has left Clinton looking like a soft Republican. And the effect is inevitably felt up here, too. Not only have the Liberals used their governing advantage to outflank the NDP on a number of issues important to progressives — launching an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, lowering taxes on the middle class and raising taxes on the rich, ramping up infrastructure projects that will put union members to work — but Sanders’ example stateside has reminded people what a real social democrat looks like. When an American mainstream politician starts to look more radical than the leader of the NDP you know something has gone seriously wrong, at least for the NDP.
That, even more than his forced campaign performance, is why Tom Mulcair is now his party’s interim leader only. He should be sent off with due appreciation for those four splendid years in the House. But it was the right choice to make.