Common Sense Canadian

Rafe: What Tom Mulcair must do to become Prime Minister

Posted June 2, 2015 by Rafe Mair in Politics


Can Tom Mulcair become the next prime minister of Canada?

Barely 6 months ago that question would have brought loud guffaws but the Alberta election and recent polls showing the NDP slightly ahead of its two main rivals have reduced the guffaws to nervous coughs.

I think Mulcair can do it but he needs BC to do it.

A mug’s game

Let’s back up a bit. If one had all of the up-to-date polls from every constituency in Canada with expert analysis on each, it would still be a mug’s game to pick the winner of the next election. One can only really go on a “tummy feel” from information gained from a media which is none too bright and considerably less than politically independent.

The polls aren’t always helpful for the obvious reason that they are only snapshots of the moment the poll is taken, along with the fact that people may not always tell the truth.

Having  completed my advance excuses, let me say why I think that Greater Vancouver may decide this issue.

Truman defeats Dewey

Often elections are simply a rehash of the previous one with the same players, similar issues, and similar outcomes. Every once in a while, though, a big change takes place and it seems to catch us all by surprise, even though a tiny bit of 20/20 hindsight tells us we should have known.

The two classics one thinks of are the British election of 1945 and the US presidential election of 1948 – both long ago but still apropos to today.

In 1945, Clement Attlee and the Labour Party threw out the great war hero, Churchill. It was considered a huge upset but when one looks at the result it’s obvious that the polls had the election much closer than the Conservatives and mainly Tory pundits did.

Moreover everyone forgot that the Tories had been in power since 1935, that there had been huge changes and a world war. There were substantial social issues to be dealt with, something the Tories weren’t noted for being enthusiastic about.

dewey-defeats-truman- copyThe second was 1948 in the United States. The odds-on favourite was Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York, who had run against Roosevelt in 1944 and lost. The largely Republican press tried to convince the people that Truman was a combination of incompetence and crookedness and played up Dewey, a famous crime-busting District Attorney, as a knight in shining armour. Truman went to the people by train, with speeches at every whistle stop, where a plant would holler “give ’em hell, Harry!”. When he eventually beat Dewey, he had the pleasure of holding up a headline from The Chicago Tribune saying “Dewey Defeats Truman” –  one of the more famous 20th Century photographs.

Again, with 20/20 hindsight it becomes clear that the polls were much closer than reported and that the win by Truman wasn’t nearly as much an upset as everyone thought.

In both of the above cases, there was a public mood that transcended the stated issues.

In the former, the British people, while grateful indeed to Churchill for his war efforts, saw the “boys” coming home and wondered where their jobs were, where their homes would be and how they were going to exist in a society that was still very much run by the elite. Ennui dominated and an overriding mood for some new brooms to begin sweeping.

In the second case, the people of the US suddenly saw Dewey as Alice Longworth Roosevelt saw him, “the little man on the wedding cake”; at the same time they saw Truman as their kind of guy who would stand up and fight for them. There was a mood that the status quo, dominated by the establishment, was out of date and it was a new era where the “little guy” needed an ordinary guy as champion.

Trudeau’s C-51 mistake

I think our election in October is going to be a “mood” election more than one of issues. Canadians from coast-to-coast are fed up with Harper and the right wing who have marginalized themselves with Bill C-51.

Trudeau, has not only failed to catch on, he has shot himself in both feet over Bill C-51. In spite of the 1970 War Measures Act, the public sees the Liberals as usually strong on civil liberties and remember that Trudeau’s father brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t think I’m alone in being put off by Justin Trudeau suddenly deciding to support C-51, then loftily promising to change it “when” he’s  elected.

Mulcair has been the consistent one on this file, along with Elizabeth May. The public has swung from being about 80% in favour of the bill to being very much opposed, catching Trudeau with his backside exposed.

Harper the chicken

Harper, whose unpopularity increases by the moment, has not done himself any good by ducking the debates. He looks like a “chicken” and that’s exactly what he is. There is no substantial reason for him not to face his opponents and the public doesn’t like cowardice in a leader one bit, nor should they.

Mulcair has benefited from the fact that Elizabeth May must take votes from him in order to have a substantial result. Not long ago it seemed pretty clear that Ms. May would do just that, but as happens so often in politics, things changed – suddenly she’s no longer the only option for environmentalists. The best perhaps, but not the only.

Kinder Morgan is key to Vancouver votes

Mulcair, far from being a sure thing, will need the Greater Vancouver seats and, unless he hustles his ass on the Kinder Morgan pipeline issue, he risks abandoning that area to the Greens.

We know that Mulcair supports a West-East Tar Sands pipeline and that he is dead against the Northern Gateway line, however the votes in Greater Vancouver are not about the West-East pipeline or Northern Gateway but Kinder Morgan.

Mulcair is partway there with his criticism of the National Energy Board and a pledge to do something about it. But that’s not specific enough to gain votes.

As it sits right now – and remember, as Harold Wilson said, in politics six weeks is an eternity – Mr. Mulcair can win or lose the election based what he decides on Kinder Morgan. He’s in a good position to take a strong stand against it in light of recent studies and information. If he does that, he could join Attlee and Truman.

If, however, Mulcair continues to waffle, the people of Greater Vancouver will not support him and that could cost him the big banana.    


About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at


    Gary Fletcher

    Rafe is right, in my opinion, that the upcoming federal election will be decided more on mood than on issues (though of course the issues influence the mood!). I feel that Stephen Harper and the Tories have reached that special place where no matter what they do it irritates the hell out of everyone. Quite frankly, I can’t stand the guy, I can’t stand the party, and more specifically I can’t stand the idea of people running Canada whose attitudes apparently haven’t changed since 1950.

    Brian Breckon

    I just came across this forum and am impressed with the quality of comments, though I disagree with some, I believe debate brings truth.

    Brian Breckon

    I read till the word “tarsand” then realize It’s propaganda.


    Well Rafe ya hit a ‘note”
    16 comments and climbing………..

    David Kelln

    What I would really like to see and hear is Mulcair challenging Harper on the philosophy of his government. “What kind of Canada do we want”. It seems to me we have a basic choice between the Canada I remember where we were proud that we looked after each other and the government managed the economy or the present regime where you can’t afford it and you don’t deserve it – unless it’s a mandatory minimum sentence in which case you do deserve it. The neo-con agenda seems to be quite evident – emasculate our government programs by continually reducing revenue through tax cuts and then having to cut budgets because no one wants a deficit. Then of course , the big lie, all these corporations will invest in Canada because they have saved so much money on taxes that we will have even more tax money. That just hasn’t seemed to work. Listening to the news I hear about layoffs and share buybacks a lot more often than investment. So after ten years of signing a free trade deal with anyone that can hold a pen our manufactured exports are apparently down 20% from 2004. Who’s the present government working for is a real direct question.


    As sad as it sounds, there is one more thing he needs to do to become Prime Minister: he needs to shave off his beard! I wish him best of luck and believe he currently is the best option for Canada.


      “He needs to shave off his beard….”

      Thats what you base your vote on???
      He may be the most honest politician in several decades.
      He may be the most empathetic politician in decades.
      He may have some excellent ideas.

      But he needs to shave off his beard.

      Glad to know you’re voting in the next federal election.
      OR are you just a Conservative troll?

    Dan Wallace

    Should also point out that Harpers public apology is almost word for word the Australian’s prime ministers speech made to the aboriginal people there.. So lacking in original sincerity when making such an apology and cutting funding to our peoples programs does not look good for that part of Canadian society meaning ALL conservative party members are responsible for Harpers direction as it is that political party that has lead to all the crap we are being forced to deal with today..


    Mulcair needs to help get the co-op sector CEDNET, the Worker Co-op organizations such as the one lead by Hazel Corcoran, and the USW/Mondragon social economy forces all behind the building of a subsistence co-op to refine bitumen in Alberta. It is precisely when the retail price of oil is depressed that the more economically viable producer co-op model shines way above the multinational corporate model. The loggers in BC who have taken over abandoned mills because transnational corporations declare them uneconomic because they are not generating the level of profit desired by the oligarchs – this model is not suitable for the dilbit situation.

    The NDP could be the force that spares the areas that would be subject to pollution from the transport of dilbit.


    Harper is a bully which is why he is such a control freak, he can’t stand confrontation. Thus his fear of the debates. Look at his history, every time he has faced a challenge he has taken his ball and run to mommy. Trudeau is a dilettante who has never had to make a decision more serious than whether to have his maid or his butler tie his shoes and wipe his nose. Mulcair is a proven turncoat who, having failed with NDP Lite, stepped even further down the evolutionary ladder to NDP heavy. Despite your fervent hopes Rafe, not enough of the public trusts the NDP to want to see them with their hands in the federal coffers, no matter how bad any other party is. If they couldn’t get elected with Jack, they havn’t a hope in hell under Mulcair. The Greens will likely benefit most. Furthermore, despite his legion of other faults, the economy ain’t doing that bad under Harper The Horrible.


      Take a look at pages 140 to 150 of the Canada Economic Action Plan for 2013. Tell me if you think that it is good economic management to give authorization to significant investment companies to 1) transform depositors’ savings into assets of the firm rather than liabilities – which is what they are; and 2) to give derivative holders preferred ranking as creditors of the firm over depositors…Can you see that far from being good economic stewards, this kind of policy will – in the event of a meltdown – be the kind of evisceration of the savings of depositors that one would expect in the most corrupt corners of the third world.


    Say no to phony “trade deals” (CETA, China-FIPA, TPP etc).

    Say no to phony industries like LNG export.

    Say yes to helping wild BC salmon.

    Pat J

    Was it not opposition to the KM pipeline that was seen as the turning point for Adrian Dix in the BC election? It may make the difference in Port Moody and North Vancouver, but will it swing any Northeast-Sector ridings or South of the Fraser, where the Cons have a pretty solid foothold?

      Damien Gillis

      Pat, I think Dix’s downfall was more about the WAY he opposed KM, not the fact that he did it. He sprang it on the media and voters mid-election and fell into a trap in the CKNW debate when he said he’s already made his mind up long before the election but didn’t announce it until much later. This was fodder for Clark’s “Risky Dix” (read: shifty, untrustworthy) labelling – which she jumped on to great effect. He also failed to paint a compelling picture of his own economic alternatives to KM – which has literally zero value to BC. It’s not hard to say, look, instead of the piddly 50 permanent jobs at a new Tar Sands tanker terminal, we’re going to preserve Supernatural BC and our $13.4 Billion/150,000 job tourism economy. We’re going to focus on the tech sector, support the film industry, grow our agricultural production, build a green economy. We’re going to promote value-added manufacturing, not just raw log exports and fossil fuels. We’re going to stop giving a billion dollars a year in royalty credits and taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas industry. We’re going to stop issuing useless, sweetheart contracts to the private power sector and bankrupting BC Hydro. We’re going to start thinking about the public interest again…And to hell with being “nice”. We’re going to expose this government’s enormous fiscal ineptitude and poor management of our economy. We’re going to hold them to account and offer British Columbians competent, good faith governance.

      Alas, they dropped the ball. But it wasn’t for opposing Kinder Morgan. There are a lot of typically conservative voters in the Fraser Valley and interior who have as little use for the Kinder Morgan pipeline as do the citizens of Burnaby or Vancouver. Maybe it’s not as big enough of a wedge issue by itself to flip those ridings, but it certainly can’t hurt. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – in this province loves Kinder Morgan.

      PS my thoughts on Dix’s failure from just after the last election – dealing with these very matters:

        Drew Chisholm

        this policy not a new one for the BC NDP, even though the MSM said it was.On Feb. 23, 2011, the Vancouver Sun published an article titled, “NDP Leadership Front-Runners Take Stand on Environmental Issues; Liberals Silent” by Larry Pynn. Dix and Farnworth stood against the Enbridge pipeline.
        On July 6, 2012, Dix wrote an article and submitted it to The Tyee titled, “Dix to Clark: Time to Break Pipeline Silence.” Clark did not reply. Dix clearly laid out the NDP policy against the Gateway pipeline.
        These stands were not reported in the MSM and were totally ignored.

    Liam Young

    I don’t envy any decision related to oil, to be quite honest, but I’m confident Mulcair will offer to do the right thing.
    What’s important is the LANGUAGE of his policy concerning the pipeline. He’s still backpeddling after his ‘Dutch Elm Disease’ comment about Alberta and even though it’s true, it’ll slow him down there.
    Also, Mulcair can win the next election if he does something to appeal to special interest groups OTHER THAN labour without alienating labour. For example? Small business, charities, etc.
    Finally, Ontario is on the table in October. If there’s a protracted teacher’s strike in the fall, it will follow him around like a bad stink and annoyed parents will not support the NDP if things get ugly.

      sylvia greier

      Mulcair has stated he will reduce small business tax by 2%. He will also increase corp taxes & close CEO loopholes.

      I’m not sure what a possible teacher’s strike in Ontario has to do with Mulcair?

      Ontario is a lib prov govt. The libs will just legislate back to work action….end of teacher’ strike.

    Ron Wilton

    If all British Columbians and especially all First Nations in BC vote anything but Con in October we would for certain rid all of Canada and Canadians the scourge of harper and his vile intentions.

    What he has done to BC must not be rewarded by sending even one of his quislings back to Ottawa.

    Jean Ouderkirk

    I agree with Rafe on the matter of Kinder Morgan. Mulcair needs to be very clear on that. The other issue I think he needs to be clear on is this; when he’s working on convincing the electorate on his plan for Kinder Morgan he also has to be clear on what and how he will replace the revenues of the gas and oil industry. I think most Canadians believe this industry creates a large amount of jobs although I don’t think it’s as high as what most people think it is.

    What are Mulcair’s plans to create a healthy economy? I have read some of what the NDP has released which addresses this but of course it’s in broad terms. I don’ think most Canadians have read much of anything on this and need to know there is a plan for a post big oil and gas economy. Without being convinced that Mulcair and the NDP have a solid plan for the economy the Liberals and Cons will be able to paint the NDP with that same old, worn to the nub paint brush lie they have used to scare Canadians about the NDP for generations,

      Ron Waller

      If Mulcair wants to run on a healthy economy, he should run on reversing the small-government, low-tax, free-market reforms put in place over the past 35 years by Neo-Con and Neo-Liberal governments that put it on its deathbed. (Obviously not just a Canadian problem, but affects Anglo Saxon countries the worst.)

      In short, use the Keynesian mixed-market economic system that created the wealth of the first-world nations in the post-war era (1945-1980.) Back then all segments of society benefited from economic and productivity growth. Over the past 35 years, only the top 20% saw an increase in real incomes; the rest a sharp decline (and still falling.)

      The economic wheel does not have to be reinvented. All we need is some politicians with enough courage to state the painfully obvious: the free-market emperor wears no clothes.

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