Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 4, 2015
The notion that Tom Mulcair once entertained a job working for the Harper Conservatives is nothing new. The story has circulated since Mulcair took over leadership of the NDP from the late Jack Layton.
As it goes, Mulcair spoke with staff in the Harper war room about a spot at the table as an environmental adviser, and in their mind, a hopeful Conservative candidate later on. The idea was that Mulcair brought plenty to the table and had the experience in that particular portfolio under Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberal government.
Although the news is nothing new, the spin surrounding it has taken on a different dimension now that Mulcair and the NDP are knocking on the door of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In recent weeks, with the thought of Mulcair landing the country’s top job becoming more of a possibility, the story has surfaced again — this time with the caveat that Mulcair may have considered a run for the Conservatives after his time as a senior environmental adviser.
It took no time for this revelation to rear its head, the purpose being to discredit the NDP leader and his commitment to the New Democrat cause.
The other thing it signals is that this federal election is going to be nothing less than a dogfight as each party attempts to stake a claim on every single vote.
For so long, we have avoided the American style of elections. Aside from some colourful spats or a few well-placed ad campaigns, Canadian elections have been mild compared to our counterparts south of the border. Our arguments have been more ideological than personal and the results have made for less sensational headlines and pretty tame television, comparatively speaking.
The groundswell, however, of more personal attacks — such as the “just not ready” mantra the Conservatives adopted in talking about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, or the “just visiting” take on Michael Ignatieff’s time at the helm — have proved and continue to prove somewhat more effective.
The Tories also currently run an ad focusing on the more human side of their leader — that he is not quite the ideologue many see him as and is warmer, just doing the best he can for everyday Canadians.
Absent from this back-and-forth advertising fight has been Tom Mulcair — and it may ultimately cost the Conservatives.
In the 2011 election, Jack Layton and the NDP were able to push to their highest number of seats ever by keeping themselves out of the fight, relatively speaking. By focusing on what they believed was a solid political ground game, they were, up until the end, able to avoid the impending war of attrition happening between the Harper Conservatives and hapless Ignatieff Liberals.
The result was that people took the time to listen, especially in Quebec, and the NDP was able to position themselves well to come up big on election day.
The same may be shaping up here.
To a certain extent, the NDP doing well in the polls is a good thing for the Conservatives, as it keeps the Liberal vote suppressed. However, with Mulcair moving into the driver’s seat, it puts the Conservatives into uncharted waters when it comes to strategy.
Ignoring Mulcair now comes at their own peril and may cost them the election.
Ignore Trudeau, and you face the possibility that his ground game, which many think is the strongest of the three, comes through on election day.
In either case, it puts the Conservatives in a predicament trying to hold off parties on two separate fronts, all without many members of the team that got them there.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. If the Conservatives had of been able to woo Mulcair into the fray during Stephen Harper’s first term as prime minister, it would now be shaping up to be a very different scenario.
Unable to keep him away from the threat as a leader — which past governments have done with Ed Schreyer or Gary Doer — Mulcair is now poised to challenge the government.
As for the job he passed over, many media outlets speculated Mulcair walked away from the table over money — about $120,000, to be exact. He was quick to discredit this rumour, but those within the party stated this was ultimately the deciding factor.
That investment, or lack thereof, may now come back to haunt the Harper Conservatives should the polling hold true.
There is plenty at stake for the prime minister and his party as our election day looms, and their battle is waged on multiple fronts.