Mulcair: Happy Warrior or Angry Tom?

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With the NDP now out front and the real possibility that it could form the next federal government, what of Thomas Mulcair? What should Canadians know about this man to properly judge whether he can be a trusted Prime Minister?

The spin doctors have been busy remaking the Mulcair image, trimming his beard and buffing up his smile. Angry Tom has become Determined Tom, the Happy Warrior. Mulcair’s impatient nastiness has become an anxious, deep-seeded set of convictions. His Quebec-centric thinking has become a pan-Canadian vision. His personal story has become a prelude to a prime-minister-in-waiting plot.

There have been many flowery exposes of the man – and we can expect many more from the mainstream media. Thomas Mulcair, himself, has written a memoir that extols his virtues. It all makes for a wonderful subtext to the greater “anti-Harper” narrative the media is shilling these days.

But what does a careful look at his record tell us? What does the recent history with his NDP caucus reveal about how he would handle his Party and Parliament from the halls of the PMO? Some political pundits and media commentators have been asking these specific questions.

Charlotte Gray, for example, wrote a November 2013 Walrus magazine feature entitled, “Prime Minister in Waiting: Can Thomas Mulcair finish the project Jack Layton started?”  Gray’s piece provides a balanced view of how through 2012-13 Thomas Mulcair was picking up from Jack Layton’s legacy. This is an insightful piece for its exploration of the political rationale that has gone into positioning the NDP Leader in relation to the Trudeau Liberals. It should come as no surprise that Mulcair’s policy statements through the last few months have been developed and contrived to steal away centralist voters from the Liberals. For Mulcair, getting the spin right is important. Gray paints a picture of a man who is less a Leader of conviction and more an astute, calculating politician.

Another insightful piece from just this past week is Terezia Farkas’s critical look at the NDP’s Leader: Can Canadians Trust Thomas Mulcair With the Country’s Top Job?  Farkas reveals the Mulcair warts in his air-brushed image: his temper, his “slow-boil” outbreaks, his inability to admit he is wrong, his politics of convenience. She adroitly asks: Should Canadians judge Thomas Mulcair by his campaign image or by his character?

Lastly, to get a first-hand accounting of Mulcair’s character, take 10 minutes and watch this segment of CBC’s At Issue Panel from May 2014 (before the NDP spin-miesters sat their Leader down). Jennifer Ditchburn, Chantel Hebert and Andrew Coyne join Peter Mansbridge to review Thomas Mulcair and his prickly personality. Click here.

You will see these veteran reporters describe the Thomas Mulcair they have come to know in covering him for years. Warning: this exchange is not what you will read in the NDP’s flattering campaign pieces. Muclair is described as “imperious”, “brittle, condescending and patronizing”, “smarty and arrogant”. Coyne makes the comment that he “doesn’t have a sense of humour about himself” and when responding to criticism “where he either strikes a graceful or graceless tone, he tends toward graceless.” Chantel Hebert observes that he is often “dismissive in his tone” and asks pointedly, “What he’d be like if he were Prime Minister?”

What these three pieces reveal about Canadians’ current view of Thomas Mulcair is that the NDP have indeed skillfully re-mastered their Leader into a more likeable fellow. He’s everyman’s prime-minister-in-waiting. Whether this image survives the heat of the campaign will be something to watch. For Canadians will either be moved to vote for the “Happy Warrior” image, or they will pass Mulcair by because of his “Angry Tom” character flaws.