OTTAWA — Thomas Mulcair is making the case for his continued leadership of the NDP, as 43 of his caucus colleagues begin a two-day retreat in scenic Montebello, Que.
In a 15-minute speech to caucus, staff, and TV cameras, Mulcair quickly moved through a grab bag of progressive policies he wants the New Democrats to put forward as Parliament resumes: establishing universal child care and protecting universal medical care; action on climate change; a new relationship with First Nations; social housing investments and addressing income inequality, and raising government revenue by taxing corporations.
“Our job going forward will be to defend those priorities. To stand up for today’s workers and families, stand up for our values, and, together, we will provide Canada with a truly progressive opposition in Ottawa,” Mulcair said.
“These are the values that inspire me as leader of the New Democratic Party and (they are) the values that will continue to guide us in our work together.”
The speech sounded if it was as much an appeal to caucus and the party’s grassroots as a pitch to Canadians. Mulcair has been the target of grumbling, most private and some public, after October’s devastating electoral collapse.
But he remains committed to leading the party into the 2019 election, and has three months to convince the membership that he’s the guy to do it.
Paul Dewar was the only defeated MP in attendance at Mulcair’s speech at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Dewar is leading the “lessons-learned” report on how the NDP went into the election as a government-in-waiting and came out of it returned to third place.
Dewar said that New Democrats are largely supportive of the platform the party offered, but said that the progressive measures were not adequately communicated.
“What I’m hearing from people, be it on the niqab as we were talking earlier, C-51 (the controversial anti-terrorism legislation), or, on the issues of health care, people were really proud of our position, our stance,” Dewar told reporters before Mulcair’s speech. “That’s something we have to hold onto as a social democratic party, to distinguish ourselves from the others, and those are some of the examples.”
The promise to balance the books notwithstanding, a number of MPs echoed Dewar’s point about the need to improve their sales pitch to Canadians.
Charlie Angus, the popular Timmons-James Bay MP who was elected caucus president Tuesday morning, said Mulcair needs to show caucus how he intends to put last October behind them. Angus called Tuesday a “rebuilding moment” for the party.
“We lost in ridings we should never have lost in,” Angus said. “That’s not to blame Mr. Mulcair. This is, ‘what did we do wrong? What do we need to do right, to learn from this?’ ”