Tonight a story is making the rounds about comments made by former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair that more NDP MPs will not be running than have already said won’t. The comments from Tom are strong and needless to say, there are many in NDP circles who are not too happy to hear them. Frankly, many of those same people haven’t been happy to hear to much of what he’s had to say since he left the House of Commons this summer. Some have pointed out that former NDP leaders have traditionally stayed quiet about the current leadership when stepping aside, and that this is just wrong on Tom’s part.
Well, tonight I want to take this up and come to the defence of Tom Mulcair in this moment. Tom’s a good leader and doesn’t need me to defend him, but I feel compelled to do so because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. For starters, I would point out that while most former NDP leaders have stayed away from attacking current leaders or staying out of leadership races all together, Tom’s not the first to break that tradition. Remember back during the race to replace Jack Layton, no less that Ed Broadbent went public with is criticisms of Tom in the weeks before the vote. He told people to look at who was supporting Tom, noting that most people who had been in the caucus before 2011 were supporting someone else, as a kind of backhanded comment. Later Ed defended those comments by saying that he had a “responsibility” to raise his concerns and that they were no personal vendetta against Tom. So let’s keep our history in perspective here.
Now when it comes to Tom, I will openly confess that I didn’t want to see him tossed as leader. He had my support to comeback and put in the work to do better next time. Yes, the campaign that was run in 2015 was not the best but I believe that he deserved another chance to run, just as Ontario NDP (and now Official Opposition Leader) Andrea Horwath did. I had the chance to work in the caucus under all of the years of Tom’s leadership and he’s someone who I enjoyed working with and while I disagreed with him on some thing, I found there was space to voice that and try to move the debate.
But when it comes to what I saw over the years of Tom’s leadership, one thing was very clear; some members and supporters never accepted his win as leader or accepted him as leader. Some people always looked at him with a suspicious eye, said he wasn’t a real New Democrat and never gave him the chances they had given other leaders. To me that was sadly ironic because policy wise, Tom didn’t take the NDP in any direction other than the one that Jack Layton took us. In fact, the platform that the NDP ran on in 2015 was very similar to 2011, and similar again to 2008; many of the principles were the same and the things that people attacked Tom for (the promise of balanced budgets as one example) were also there in Jack’s previous platforms. At the end of the day, even though after the leadership race Ed buried the hatchet and did what he could to help Tom and the team going forward, Ed’s attacks on Tom left a mark, one that never left.
We also have to remember the full arc of the Mulcair story within the NDP, starting with his by-election win in Outremont. When it came to building the party in Quebec, it was people like Tom and Françoise Boivin who did a lot of the heavy lifting in those pre-2011 years. While Jack got and deserved a lot of the credit for 2011, he wasn’t shy to put the spotlight on others like Tom who deserved it for their hard work to make that happen.
So you can just imagine how it must be for him, a proud person who made a career out of doing things that no one said he could, to not only be dispatched like he was, like no other leader in Canadian history had, but then be forced to watch that decade of hard work to build a beachhead in Quebec for the NDP start to crumble and be on the verge of disappearing if things happen the way public commentary believes it will.
That isn’t easy to sit back and watch silently and I know that because he’s not the only one feeling that way. There are many of us, former and current MPs, former staff like myself, some current staff who are still there, volunteers, donors, people who have sacrificed and poured themselves into this party trying to form government and make a better country, watching it all slip away. So yes, that’s very hard for Tom to stay quiet and rightfully so.
Now while some are pointing to Tom saying he’s being vindictive and trying to settle scores, I see this a different way. What I see is someone who is watching from a distance as something he built falters. I see someone who cares deeply about the institution, the party and those involved in it and watching it all start to go under the waves. I see someone who can’t stay quiet, in the hope that by speaking up it will shake something loose and help right the ship. And let’s be clear, the NDP ship needs some righting right now.
Some will say that Tom shouldn’t say anything now, should wait until the by-election in Burnaby is done before point this out and that’s a fair comment. But to that I would only retort that maybe there isn’t enough time to wait to say it. 9 times out of 10 I would agree with the “wait until after” approach, but from everything I’m seeing, this is that one time to speak up.
So in defence of Tom, maybe this isn’t someone throwing knives at their successor but instead maybe this is Tom channelling his inner Ed Broadbent, feeling the responsibility to speak up now. That’s how I see it, as someone who voted for both Tom Mulcair and Jagmeet Singh in leadership races and worked in both of their caucuses. I want to see Jagmeet be his best. I’m hoping that Jagmeet grows, improves and becomes the leader that we all hope he can be. And I just don’t believe that can happen if we ignore what we see.