Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 16, 2016
For Tom Mulcair, the next 13 months of his political career may very well be the most trying time of his years in public office.
Although garnering enough support from the NDP caucus to hold on to his waning leadership, party members maintain that their “top dog” will still be shown the door next October — a stance that leaves many to wonder why he would bother sticking around.
Prior to entering into politics, Mulcair maintained a successful law practice, and although 20-plus years removed from that part of his career he could — if he wanted to — re-enter private life with relative ease, mostly due to the public image he has upheld since that time.
With the New Democrats facing their lowest approval ratings in more than a decade, and with no clear-cut favourite to take on the top job, Mulcair clearly wears the burden of defeat. Although there were elements of the last election trouncing that were beyond his control, mainly the anti-Stephen Harper vote and the resurgence of the Liberal brand, Mulcair, much like a head coach, must bear the brunt of his team’s loss. When it came down to it, he was simply unable to get it done, never reversing the tide that swept the Liberals to their left-of-centre domination.
But that all seems in the past, well, for the next year at least as NDP members emerged from their caucus meeting Wednesday buzzing with words of praise for their leader, and unified in their resolve to hold the Liberals to their promises from the past election.
All those newfound niceties aside, the New Democrats face some significant challenges in the upcoming year. Without a leadership hopeful the party can get excited about, there will be little in the way of buzz surrounding their brand. They have hit a deep rut in the road when it comes to fundraising. Lastly, one of the biggest issues they face is party identity. The Trudeau Liberals have effectively clogged the middle ground in Canada, and without a reason for Canadians to get excited about the alternatives, the Grits will have carte blanche to work their majority for the foreseeable future.
Aside from the assisted dying debate, the last session was a bit of a cakewalk for the Liberals. Now with both the Conservatives and NDP staring down leadership competitions in the next year, the golden opportunity for both parties to score points off the Grits may in fact be lost. Without someone to challenge the government, we are lulled into a sense of complacency, something that may, in fact, be the one saving grace for Mulcair. His return to Parliament is good for a healthy debate as he proved exceptional at challenging the government while in opposition.
Moving forward, though, the NDP must return to that grassroots style of politics practised under Jack Layton. Leaving Mulcair as leader for more than a year does little more than place the New Democrats in a holding pattern, having a vastly more negative impact on all the above-mentioned deficits they currently face. They would have been better off to have sought an interim leader as the Conservatives did in Rona Ambrose, giving them time to handpick their knight in shining armour.
All that aside, you have to wonder why Mulcair would bother sticking around with such turmoil and internal discourse surrounding his position. Perhaps it is a trait of all politicians that their Achilles heel is ego. If Mulcair honestly thought in the best interests of his party he would have resigned on election night, as Harper did. From there, the NDP could have begun the process of reworking the party to hopefully mount a challenge in the future.
Instead by delaying the inevitable, Mulcair may have done more harm than good. He has allowed divisions to form in the party, with some even going as far as to support an online movement to keep him on as permanent leader. A random petition with a couple of thousand signatures does not make a movement, but the very fact the discussion is taking place among membership shows a party with factions that are completely unsure of the overall direction.
If he was so inclined, Mulcair could run for leadership again come October 2017. And oddly enough, with the way the field is shaping up right now, Mulcair may, in fact, stand a good chance of winning. The question many would have though is why, oh why would he even want to.