Following the leader: Thomas Mulcair’s day in the Commons

Tariq Jeeroburkhan

March 27, 2012 – The caucus had given him their unconditional support at a meeting the previous morning, members of NDP internal staff had already been shuffling to make way for changes, and a private congratulatory phone call with Quebec Premiere Jean Charest, old buddy from Mr. Mulcair’s provincial Liberal days, had set the stage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was away on business in the Orient, so we still have the first head-to-head showdown between the two leaders to look forward to — but the day still gave us a taste of what is to come.

Canadians of all political persuasions (even Conservative supporters have been anticipating this) had been waiting to see an opponent in the Commons who can match the bravado and swagger that comes from the government side — the Conservative benches run deep in talent of this kind. The official opposition NDP now has a leader who can take the party and Canadian political debate to that level and keep it there.

Sitting side-by-side with Libby Davies on the NDP front-benches spoke volumes without a word being said.

After a prolonged leadership campaign with many contending viewpoints creating possible friction, NDP members and Canadians needed to be reassured that a rapprochement was possible. Thomas’ prior relationship with Libby Davies, at one point even suggesting that she be removed from caucus, was past experience that led Canadians to question what would happen to the NDP.

But, first day in the new house, there they were, sitting front and centre on the same bench with an array of familiar faces sitting in support and unity. The seating arrangement is likely to be altered further by Easter, but seeing Libby and Thomas sitting together and on the same page was very settling indeed.

Despite a mere four hours sleep, Mr. Mulcair was quite demonstrative in his first Commons appearance as official leader of the opposition. Although he was occasionally guilty of talking to his chest and reading his notes, more so in French than English, it was clear that his presence gave every member sitting on his side of the house a more professional aire and really creates some possibilities for exciting Question Period showdowns to come.

An interesting exchange occurred between the Prime Minister’s Secretary Dean Del Maestro and Opposition MP Charlie Angus when the MP for Peterborough referred to Mr. Angus as “the MP for ‘Eight Mile’” and told him he “wasn’t the real Slim Shady” — in reference to Mr.Angus’ musical tastes.

The MP for Timmons-James Bay answered back that the only real Gangster Rappers were on the government side of the house.

It appears that the arrival of Mr. Mulcair, with his Quebec roots, heritage and grooming; front and centre as leader of the opposition has definitely put the Liberal Party on high alert. The Liberals, of course, are relying heavily on re-gaining significant seats in Quebec to rebuild their party.

Liberal MP and Quebec point man Denis Codere was at full throttle defending the rights of Quebec today in the Commons, and still-rising Justin Trudeau, Liberal environment critic, had significant question time as well.

Thomas Mulcair was elected, in part to guarantee to Canadians that the Orange Wave would last in Quebec and the NDP would carry the province in the next Federal election — what better signal then the cozy, history of relationship between Mr. Mulcair and Quebec’s long-reigning provincial premiere Jean Charest?

It is safe to say that the Quebec Federal Orange Wave will continue as long as Mulcair is leader of the NDP and Charest remains the premiere of Quebec – although they will never tell you that!

Mr. Mulcair’s first day as official leader of the opposition was met with congratulations from all benches, including the government side. Liberal leader Bob Rae offered his warm regards, although he warned that “social democratic parties all over the world are becoming more and more conservative and Mr. Mulcair is an example.”

Mr. Mulcair himself said that there are still changes and surprises to come in terms of staffing, hierarchy and content. Just around the corner, the new leader of the New Democrats promised us a fresh series of attack ads to target Conservative excesses and forays. Welcome to the new Canadian political landscape – let’s try to enjoy the ride!

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