Mulcair must stem growing unease

Canada’s New Democrats have a history of patiently playing the long game, a virtue — some would argue — that has at least partly been borne out of electoral necessity.

Canada’s New Democrats have a history of patiently playing the long game, a virtue — some would argue — that has at least partly been borne out of electoral necessity.

In contrast with their Liberal cousins, it is not in their culture to turn their knives on a leader at the first signs of potential trouble.

Given the miserable summer the party is having, that’s fortunate for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. If he were leading a party with a strong killer instinct, he might be fighting for his political life by now.

Mulcair may not be contending with a mutiny but he may have to grip his ship’s wheel with both hands if he is to stay the centrist course he has set the NDP on, for he is sailing in increasingly choppy waters.

In politics, the success of a strategy is inevitably measured in votes and, so far, Mulcair’s approach is yielding negative returns.

On that score, the loss earlier this summer of Olivia Chow’s former Trinity-Spadina seat was a blow to party morale.

The fact that it was not offset by NDP inroads in the other three ridings at play in the July set of federal byelections compounded that blow.

Polls suggest that Mulcair’s attempts to woo suburban Ontario are continuing to fall on deaf ears.

More than a year into Justin Trudeau’s leadership and even from third place in the House of Commons, the Liberals remain widely perceived as the default alternative to the ruling Conservatives.

If anything, July’s byelection results reinforced that perception and it stands to give Trudeau a strong edge on the NDP when it comes to recruiting candidates for next year’s general election.

And then, even more so than when Parliament is sitting, the summer is a season when events determine the hand a federal opposition leader has to play.

As it happens, fate has dealt Mulcair some pretty poor cards over the past month.

The near-completion of a comprehensive trade deal between Canada and the European Union was the major economic development of an otherwise quiet domestic summer, but it offered the NDP precious little to chew on.

The final text of the agreement is still under wraps. More importantly, Mulcair has used this deal to cast the NDP as a more trade-friendly party.

The Canada/EU deal enjoys the backing of Quebec’s political establishment and the support of every current provincial government.

It would be political suicide for the federal NDP to go to the barricades against it but that does not necessarily sit well with some of its traditional allies.

Among the major federal parties, none struggles internally with the Middle East file to the degree that the New Democratic Party does and its Quebec ranks are not immune to those divisions.

The Middle East policy of the party is not a ballot-box issue in most of the ridings the NDP holds in Quebec. (Mulcair’s Outremont riding may be the main exception as it is home to a significant Hasidic community). But a vocal part of Quebec’s intelligentsia is critical of Canada’s pro-Israel stance and some of its members are increasingly taking the NDP to task over the fact that only shades of grey seem to distinguish its position from that of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In an effort to nuance the NDP’s position on energy exports, Mulcair has cautiously endorsed a plan to link Alberta’s oilsands to the refineries of Canada’s East Coast.

But Quebec’s influential environmental movement begs to differ and its opposition could resonate in many NDP-held ridings over the next year.

For Mulcair, a difficult summer has so far not turned into one of epidemic discontent. But this is the season when all parties are getting in gear for the 2015 election and the exercise is driving the New Democratic Party not on the coveted fast lane but into some potentially deep potholes.

With a year to go to the next federal campaign, popular support for the NDP is not growing but unease within its ranks is.

Chantal Hébert is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Quinn Mason died from an opioid overdose at the age of 23 in June 2020. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta mother whose son died from overdose advocates for ‘change’

It’s been about nine months since her son died from an overdose,… Continue reading

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Majority of Albertans to receive first shot before June 30: Shandro

Shandro says all Albertans should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Alberta’s Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer spoke on Thursday by webinar to Red Deer Chamber of Commerce members. (Screenshot by Advocate staff).
Alberta’s economic diversification is already underway, says Jobs Minister

From the geothermal to the TV industry, new jobs will be created, said Doug Schweitzer

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen reacts to a goal by Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny, left, during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) shoots after grabbing a rebound against Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Boston. At right is Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel answers a question during a news conference addressing hockey issues at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The International Ice Hockey Federation has confirmed the postponement of the women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May 6-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Mark Humphrey
IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Most Read