Q&A: Tom Mulcair, potential prime minister
Monday night, the leaders of Canada’s three major political parties went head to head (to head) in a debate on foreign policy at Roy Thomson Hall. The NDP’s Tom Mulcair did his best to shore up the party’s support—which, if the polls are to be believed, is slipping—ahead of October 19th’s vote. Here, the fearless (but definitely not beardless) leader talks affordable childcare, avoiding combat missions, and why Toronto is totally the jewel in Canada’s crown.
You recently called Toronto the “most important city” in Canada, so I guess we’re gonna get along great. Unless you want to backtrack on that one?
Oh no, I’ve said that a whole bunch of times. If you look at the number of new arrivals, the number of head offices, the percentage of our GNP and of course the overall population, Toronto is Canada’s most important city. Period. And it’s important for the person who aspires to be Canada’s next prime minister to understand that. When Toronto does well, Canada does well.
Amen to that! Now let’s turn to Monday’s foreign policy debate—and also the last partially English debate before the election. How would you rate your performance?
On Monday we were able to show that there are very clear distinctions between the NDP’s approach and the approach of the Conservatives and Liberals. They both agree on Bill C-51; we voted against it. They want us involved in the combat mission in Iraq; we’re saying no. We think that we can deal with ISIS by stopping the flow of arms, money and foreign fighters, but we’ve stood up strongly and said that Canada should not be sending our troops into that fight.
There seemed to be an above average number of zingers Monday’s debate…
Well, this was my fourth debate. What happens is, we start to know where people are going to go in their arguments, which makes it a little easier to fend off predictable attacks, and also to deliver a line that might allow people to realize that they’re being fed something.
Some people feel you went too far by bringing in Pierre Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act. Bob Rae, for example, tweeted, “I didn’t always agree with Pierre Trudeau, but he was a great man. I can’t say the same about Tom Mulcair.” Ouch.
Well, I frankly haven’t read anything written by Bob Rae since he left political life, but I can honestly tell you that the War Measures Act was one of the worst attacks on human rights in Canadian history. Hundreds of Canadians were put in jail without accusation, without trial. Not one of them was ever convicted of anything. That’s just a simple historical fact. It was Pierre Trudeau who did that, and it’s a very fair thing to talk about in the context of Bill C-51, another unwarranted attack on Canadian rights and freedoms.
Speaking of Bob Rae, there are a lot of Ontarians who still mistrust the NDP because of his time as premier. How do you address that wariness?
It’s very understandable that the Bob Rae years don’t resonate well with Ontarians, but the NDP has the best track record of all political parties for balanced budgets. We are pushing that to the core, so Canadians can feel reassured.
The NDP has moved to the right of the Liberals fiscally: Trudeau wants to run modest deficits, you don’t. Are you getting flak from the old-school party faithful?
The old-school party faithful are people who know that the only way to have something sustainable long term is to be really responsible with how you manage. I think Bob Rae was the exception.
Prior to this election campaign, you had the reputation of being aggressive and even combative. Where is Angry Tom? Is it time to let him out?
That’s never been my nickname. That’s something that an opponent gave to me one time. That’s certainly not something that anyone who has worked with me has ever said.
Can you tell me one thing that the electorate doesn’t know about you? Something that speaks to your personality as opposed to your platform.
Well, I come from a very large family. We had to learn to take on responsibilities early.
I was hoping for something a little more surprising. Like you’re a closet CrossFit champ or you were the president of your University’s Barbara Streisand fan club…
Well, I was on the swim team all the way up to and including university, and I remain an avid swimmer to this day.
Should the vote go your way on October 19th, what’s the first thing you’ll do to improve life for the average Toronotonian?
From day one, we’re going to get going on our plan to bring in quality, maximum $15-per-day childcare across the country, which is something that’s been promised by the other parties for over 30 years. We’re also going to bring in a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour that will apply to people who work in airports, and ports, and banks, and call centres—but more importantly it will be a strong signal to the provinces that people who are working full time should not be living in poverty.
Of course affordable childcare sounds great, but where does the funding come from?
We’re the only party that is going to require Canada’s richest corporations to start paying their fair share. And we are going to get rid of things like Mr. Harper’s income splitting. Or another example—there’s something called the stock option tax loophole, which allows CEOs to take money out of their companies in the form of a stock option, but then it’s not taxed at the normal level. We’re going to take the $500 million that cancelling that will produce and we’re going to use it to help lift young people out of poverty.
And finally, the Globe and Mail published an op-ed a couple weeks ago that suggested you lose the facial hair. What say you?
I’m very proud of the fact that I will be the first Canadian prime minister with a beard since 1896. The beard stays!