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Thomas Mulcair wants to be Prime Minister

Image: Flickr/davehuehn

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Fairness rules. Equal time for all. So I ran out and bought Thomas Mulcair's new book, Strength of Conviction, determined to write about it as impartially as I tried to do with Justin Trudeau's effort (Common Ground).

Let me begin by saying I found the Mulcair book very engaging, and can't be sure why. Is it mostly my partisan bias, or is it just a superior read compared to Mr. Trudeau's anodyne memoir? Truthfully, I can't be sure. All I can offer is the above full disclosure.

First, I found myself liking the author as his life and beliefs unfold here, and I was satisfied that most of what he's written is authentic, not just campaign propaganda or ghostwriter's gloss. Of course the book is meant as a campaign document and must be read accordingly.

Second, I readily confess I have no way to get into the mind of someone who was brought up in a Quebec Catholic household of 10 kids. The very idea creates panic and tumult in my mind. But Mr. Mulcair seems to have relished it. And so, apparently, did his mother, who chose it. As a bonus, he neatly explains the decline in the Catholic Church in the Western world. When his church-going parents decided enough was enough and turned to birth control, their parish priest refused to give his mother absolution.

But what a family it was. Both Mr. Mulcair's mother and father came from families of nine -- this was Catholic Quebec before the Quiet Revolution. A photo in the book shows Mr. Mulcair's family at a Christmas dinner; there are 50-odd people. Add his parents' families and they'd have more people at Thanksgiving than the NDP had supporters throughout Quebec before 2011. Imagine washing all those dishes, as his father did. Anyone who even survives this background, let alone triumphs in it, earns my awe.

As I absorbed it, the Tom Mulcair who emerges from this memoir is indeed the man we see on TV -- confident, determined, knowledgeable. A serious person. Of course that's what he means us to see. As a campaign document, the book sends many messages. And I must say they're entirely welcome. He goes out of his way to show he understands the NDP's predecessor, the CCF protest movement. This should reassure party stalwarts who've worried that Mr. Mulcair was going to pull an Andrea Horwath on them.

You'll recall that Ontario NDP leader Horwath unilaterally decided in the last Ontario election to ignore many of the policies and all the passion that motivated New Democrats. She paid the price -- in the middle of an election. A party like the NDP is nothing without activists who need to be recognized and galvanized by the leadership, and Mr. Mulcair here shows he recognizes that. So if there's not quite as much explicit discourse about inequality and the 1 per cent as some would like, there's still lots about movements, social democracy and safety nets. Like the party he leads, he's for them all. But it's also clear he loves winning and unapologetically blends conviction politics with pragmatism.

On policy, the book signal's Mr. Mulcair's strong personal passion in several areas that should inspire New Democrats and -- who knows? -- maybe a majority of Canadians as well: programs for women and children, justice for First Nations, serious action on the environment, more compassion for refugees and immigrants in general and, despite what one might expect, good sense on how Quebec and the Rest of Canada can most healthily thrive together. More on the plight of veterans would have been welcome.

There's something unique in history about Thomas Mulcair. He's the first leader of the CCF/NDP who could ever plausibly think of her/himself as a prospective prime minister. For all his predecessors except Jack Layton -- and I've known almost all of them -- realistically success meant being a strong leader of the third party.

Anyway, there was nothing wrong with being third. CCF/NDP leaders never wanted to lose. As a national party, they just didn't know how to gain more support without sacrificing their very raison d'etre. And they of course embraced power in most provinces and territories. In any event both the CCF and NDP repeatedly made proud and powerful contributions to much that's best in Canadian life today.

But that's not what Tom Mulcair wants. He wants to be prime minister, as he should. He knows he's on the cusp of making history and loves it. He knows how he'd run the country if he becomes PM, and from all the available evidence he'd be a competent, compassionate and solid one. He knows how government works, having been in one, as only the other Tommy, from Saskatchewan, had ever been before. He knows how far an NDP government could go before the dark forces of reaction take out the long knives.

Listen, don't take my word. I'm biased. Decide for yourself. Get the book. It's inexpensive and easy reading. Get to know more about this intriguing fellow. After all, he seems to be on the way to making history. But it would be even better if he joined a leaders' debate dedicated to women's issues, with or without Stephen Harper.

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Image: Flickr/davehuehn

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

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