On his 58th birthday, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair stood in the House of Commons for more than an hour delivering perhaps his most important speech yet as leader.
He was elected the party’s seventh leader in its 51-year history earlier this year, replacing Jack Layton who led the party to an historic second-place finish in the 2011 election before dying of cancer.
Mulcair, a Montreal lawyer, professor and former Quebec Liberal environment minister before defecting to the NDP and winning a breakthrough Quebec seat in 2007, has big shoes and party expectations to fill.
The rap on him is that he is a Quebec nationalist, an iffy federalist, a bully personality with a propensity to fish for Ontario and Quebec votes by bashing the prairie resource industry.
All that bodes poorly for his chance to increase prairie NDP representation from its current three.
Yet Mulcair was in fine form Oct. 24, responding to the government’s latest outrageous omnibus budget bill that changes scores of acts and forces MPs to vote yea or nay to what veteran Liberal MP Ralph Goodale called a “dog’s breakfast” of a bill with some good, some bad and much not budget related.
If Conservative operatives were watching, they would have seen an opposition leader that will be a much more formidable political opponent than they faced in the last three hapless Liberal leaders.
If Liberals were watching, they might be running for the hills of Saskatchewan even as they fantasize that Justin Trudeau is the next Messiah to lead them past the NDP and back to power.
Mulcair was articulate, forceful and confident as he spoke in thep Commons for more than 70 minutes.
He controlled his facts on food issues, even if the Conservatives argued they were fictions.
Food inspection budgets have been cut, deregulation is the norm, the result is food safety issues and farmers are suffering through no fault of their own, Mulcair argued.
“In the Conservatives’ mouths, reducing red tape is synonymous with reducing public protection,” he said.
“Walkerton (an Ontario incident when cattle feces made it into the town water and killed a number of people), XL Foods and listeriosis are reducing public protection.”
He raged at agriculture minister Gerry Ritz for his performance, called for him to be “booted out” and suggested an NDP government would be more forceful in protecting public health and food safety.
The result of Conservative failures is “a hit for our farmers and our producers. It is a hit for public confidence in our food system.”
While Conservatives continue to mock him for what they call a $21 billion “carbon tax on everything” that was a carbon cap-and-trade proposal, they will have to explain their party’s own 2008 election platform promise of cap-and-trade.
Meanwhile, Mulcair drew his political line in the sand less than three years before the next federal election.
“For the first time in a very long time we are beginning to have hope,” he said. “In the next campaign, there will be two opposing visions of our country.”
That writes off the Liberals. It should make Conservatives at least a bit nervous.