NDP Leadership #108
Xtra recently conducted a provocative interview with Thomas Mulcair:
How would you promote queer rights abroad?
Let's look at this year's Commonwealth meeting. There are a lot of Commonwealth members that have an abysmal record on "queer rights," as you call them, that still consider it a crime. There has to come a point where in your foreign policy that type of abject refusal to recognize human rights becomes an impediment to closer relationships.
So there's a difference between a working arrangement with other countries, diplomatic relations with other countries, but when you get into a closer relationship, as with the Commonwealth, either the Commonwealth is going to start standing up and showing leadership on these issues or countries like Canada that respect these rights and understand them are going to have to send a clear signal that they're not going to be part of that club any more.
You would actually have Canada withdraw from the Commonwealth?
The Canadian government has already sent a signal that the last meeting was totally unacceptable, that there's been no progress. You can do that once. You can do that twice. But if you're still dealing with several countries that are showing absolute failure to respect rights and are in fact treating it as criminal behaviour, yes, of course, this is a question of whether or not you would associate with these people in the closest possible way. That's what the Commonwealth is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about shared history, shared institutions and shared values. If there's a total breakdown on that on such an identifying issue as this one, then at some point you have to send a clear signal that if it continues like that, that you're willing to break that relationship. That has to be clear.
How can a queer agenda be advanced from opposition?
Well, we saw what Bill Siksay was able to do, but that was in a minority government situation. We're going to put the government to the test because it is a rights issue. If now after having seen this be enacted the first time, if the bill doesn't make it through, then the public will have that as one of the other things they can decide on in the next election.
What's the road map to an NDP government?
The vision that I have is repeating in the rest of Canada what we accomplished in Quebec. For five years we worked across Quebec, tirelessly, nonstop, every corner of the province, bringing a very positive, upbeat message about who we were, our progressive vision. Showing that the Bloc [Québécois] were not progressives. It was a very substantive debate largely under the radar in the rest of Canada.
There were things like in ‘07 in my by-election, we went hard against them on their voting record on Afghanistan. If Jack was going to get beaten up in Toronto and called "Taliban Jack," we were at least going to connect with Quebeckers who were strongly anti-war, and tell them we're the only ones with a consistent record on this.
We knew Quebeckers shared our values. They just didn't vote for us and they default voted for the Bloc because they thought they were more progressive. So we had to take them on and we had to take on the Liberals and the Conservatives.
I think that the Conservatives are vulnerable to a concerted opposition. One of the things that's of real interest to NDPers is that I was part of a very tough team in Quebec City that dismantled the Parti Québécois. When we beat Bernard Landry, they haven't arisen and they're still in shambles since then. We went after them for five years. It was tough fighting. Believe me, politics in Quebec is bare knuckles. It's not the Marquess of Queensbury. Much tougher than any you've seen in Ottawa, and we stood up to them and we put together a very tough approach, a very structured approach, substantive attacks. You've got to push away and say what's wrong with the government, but you've got to bring people to you. You've got to do both, and it's the pushing and pulling that allows you to advance as a party. That's what I'll bring to this party. No one's ever taken on Harper in a substantive way.
Can the leadership candidates from the rest of Canada hold on to Quebec?
There are eight tremendous candidates in this race. We all bring different things to it. And I would hope that whoever is chosen is able to keep what we've got in Quebec, because if we don't, we can't form government. We have 58 seats in Quebec, we have 43 in the rest of Canada, and we need another 60. What we have to do is what we did in Quebec: reach beyond our traditional base. That includes going after young people.
Sixty-five percent of 18- to 25-year-olds didn't even bother to vote. In Quebec we've put up a lot of young people. Young people are excited about politics in Quebec; more young people voted in Quebec than in the other provinces.
We connect with First Nations. A lot of them didn't vote in the past. We've got two tremendous people - Romeo Saganash, Jonathan Genest-Jourdain - all the young Cree and all the young Innu came out and voted for them. That's a really incredible breakthrough.
We've got a lot of ethnic communities that used to be very beholden to the Liberal party that we're working very hard to get on side and connect with. The Filipino community is one of the first that came over to me in the ‘07 by-election. I knew them well from having worked as a volunteer for years, but I also knew that they had a lot of complex issues and the Liberals were taking them for granted. They came over to us and gave us a chance. They've been loyal, and, boy, have we been loyal to them. Those are some of the things we have done to go beyond our traditional base, because that's the only way you're going to win. You've got to get more voters.
Glad to hear Tom is willing to go to the mat on the Commonwealth issue, the meeting last October was a huge international embarassment.