Thomas Joseph “Tom” Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party, Leader of the Official Opposition 2012–15, lawyer, university professor, provincial and federal politician (born 24 October 1954 in Ottawa, ON).
Thomas Joseph “Tom” Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party, Leader of the Official Opposition 2012–15, lawyer, university professor, provincial and federal politician (born 24 October 1954 in Ottawa, ON); BCL (McGill) 1976, LLB (McGill 1977). Appointed to the Privy Council of Canada in September 2012.
Thomas Mulcair succeeded Jack Layton as leader of the New Democratic Party in March 2012. Prior to entering federal politics in 2007, Mulcair was a member of the National Assembly of Québec, and served as Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks under Jean Charest’s Liberal government. Mulcair played a key role in building support for the NDP in Québec during the 2011 federal election, after which the NDP became the Official Opposition. However, Mulcair's NDP fell to third-party status after the federal election of 19 October 2015, which saw Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party win a majority.
Education and Early Career
Mulcair was born at Ottawa Civic Hospital to a French-Canadian mother and Irish-Canadian father. The second-oldest of ten children, he was raised in Laval, north of Montréal. Mulcair studied law at McGill University, earning his bachelor in civil law (BCL) in 1976 and bachelor of common law (LLB) in 1977. He also served as president of the McGill Law Students Association and sat on the McGill Student Union council.
After being admitted to the Québec Bar in 1979, Mulcair worked for the Legislative Affairs branch of Québec’s Justice Ministry and the Legal Affairs Directorate of the Council of the French Language (Conseil de la langue française). In 1983 he became Director of Legal Affairs at Alliance Québec, and in 1985 joined a private law practice. From 1987 to 1993, Mulcair was President of the Office of the Professions of Québec (Office des professions du Québec). He also taught law at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières and at Concordia University.
Although Mulcair had long been a member of the federal New Democratic Party, he ran for election to the National Assembly of Québec as a Liberal candidate. In 1994 he won the riding of Chomedey in Laval, and was re-elected in 1998 and 2003; as a member of the opposition, he was critic for Justice and Industry. After the Liberal Party of Québec won power in 2003, Charest appointed Mulcair the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. As Minister, Mulcair launched a Sustainable Development Plan in 2004; this included a proposal to add a new right to the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms—the “right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved” (Sustainable Development Act, 2006). After a widespread consultation process, the Act was adopted by the National Assembly of Québec in April 2006.
In February 2006 Premier Charest shuffled his Cabinet, offering Mulcair the post of Minister of Government Services, an apparent demotion. Mulcair resigned in protest, and alleged that this change was due to his disagreement with Charest over a number of issues, including the planned transfer of lands in the Mont Orford provincial park to private condominium developers.
In 2007 Mulcair made the move to federal politics, winning a by-election in the riding of Outrement in September. He was re-elected in 2008 in the federal general election, and again in 2011. Only the second NDP Member of Parliament to be elected from Québec (after Phil Edmonston in 1990), Mulcair was in fact the first NDP to win a Québec riding in a general election. Mulcair was soon appointed deputy leader, a position he shared with Libby Davies, and became Jack Layton’s lieutenant in Québec. After the NDP became the Official Opposition following the general election of 2011, Mulcair became Opposition House Leader.
Approximately two months after NDP leader Jack Layton died in August 2011, Mulcair announced his candidacy for the party leadership. He was subsequently elected as party leader in March 2012. Mulcair’s policies as Leader of the Opposition have caused some controversy, both from within and outside the party. While most party faithful agreed with Mulcair that the Canadian Firearms Registry should be maintained, some supporters (and opponents) were surprised by his relatively open approach towards free trade, which differed from previous NDP rhetoric.
The NDP’s suggestion in January 2013 that a “unity bill” replace the Clarity Act was more contentious. The Clarity Act—introduced by the Liberals following the Québec Referendum of 1995 and passed in 2000—stipulated that a clear majority of Québecers would have to vote Yes on a clearly worded referendum question before the federal government would agree to negotiate terms of a separation. In October 2012, the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to repeal the Clarity Act, prompting the NDP alternative: that 50 per cent plus one of the vote would constitute a clear majority, and that this would be enough to trigger discussions on separation. Early polls suggested, however, that most Canadians believed the percentage should be higher, and many provincial NDP leaders declined to comment on the issue.
Mulcair was also criticized for his support of Gary Freeman, an American who was convicted of shooting a police officer in Chicago during an arrest in 1969. Freeman escaped shortly after the shooting, and made his way to Canada; he married a Canadian woman and raised a family in the Toronto area. In 2004 he was arrested and in 2008 he was deported to the United States. After a brief 30-day sentence (having pled guilty to aggravated battery), Freeman was not allowed to return to Canada to rejoin his family. Mulcair championed Freeman’s cause for three years before meeting with him publicly at a restaurant in Washington in March 2013. Many, including Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, criticized Mulcair for supporting Freeman.
Mulcair was also attacked for his comments about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Muclair clearly rejected the latter on environmental grounds, and during his March 2013 visit to Washington, DC, he lobbied against American approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska. He asserted that his party’s priority was Canadian energy security and the protection of Canadian jobs, and promoted the creation of a west-east pipeline which would carry western Canadian oil to the Canadian east coast to be refined. Mulcair was widely criticized for jeopardizing Canadian interests, but he maintained that if Canadian energy security and a west-east pipeline could be secured, then discussion of Keystone XL and other projects could continue. Moreover, he claimed that an NDP government would generate more public support for such projects because they would mandate stricter environmental reviews than the Conservative government.