Mulcair: “We all have to be prudent when we accept conventional wisdom”

Federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair fielded questions from the press late Wednesday morning after his party’s first closed-door session at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s.

Speaking to members of the press after the opening session of the federal NDP’s summer caucus meeting in St. John’s, party leader Tom Mulcair responded to a question about what yesterday’s Québéc election might indicate about the volatility of voters, not only in Québéc but across Canada:

“Well, I think it tells us that we all have to be prudent when we accept conventional wisdom. I think there’s a lot of conventional wisdom that’s been put aside with last night’s result,” he responded. “I think we have to realize that voters, when they want change, they’re going to try to seek change in some sort of system where there’s not going to be too much upheaval. I think, interestingly enough, that with the shortened minority that’s been granted to the Parti Québécois, we’re probably going to see a minority trying to govern a province in the public interest much more than going for the brass ring for other big constitutional changes.”

He also commented on the NDP’s position on Québéc’s sovereignist movement more generally:

“For the first time since the 1980s there is a party that holds a majority of seats in Québéc that is a federalist party. We have the Sherbrooke Declaration; it is a clear expression of the understanding that we can have asymmetrical federalism that takes into account the differences between regions and the very specific differences between Québéc and the rest of Canada in terms of its civil laws, the majority French language, its cultural differences — these are all things that can be worked on. There’s nothing divisive about that, unless somebody wants to play politics with it and make it divisive. Where the NDP comes in is we’re all about building bridges. We’ll let the other parties blow up those bridges.”

While much of the media’s focus Wednesday morning was directed to the Québéc separatist party’s election win and the tragic shooting at PQ leader Pauline Marois’ victory party late last night, which left one man dead and another in critical condition, the questions gradually shifted to the focus of the caucus retreat.

Two weeks from now, two years from now…

Mulcair’s statement about voters’ motives might be an indication that the party is already thinking beyond the fall session, which begins Sept. 17.

“As you know, in 2011 we elected quite a fresh new crop of MPs, not just in Québéc but a lot of new MPs from across Canada. So putting down roots in those ridings is an important exercise,” he told reporters when asked about the party’s immediate priorities.

But Mulcair also alluded to a two-year plan that would see the party strong and ready for an election by fall 2014.

“Theoretically the next federal election’s fixed date is October 19, 2015, but as you know since that legislation was enacted we’ve never once respected the fixed date in (the) Canadian system, so we’re counting on the past to guarantee the future,” he said.

“There are supposed to be seven different provincial elections — some provinces have already started changing their dates because they didn’t want to have it at the same time as a federal election. That’s something that Mr. Harper has actually given hints about in response in the House. So we’re thinking that the likely timeline is the spring of 2015, which makes it even more important for us to be completely ready by the fall of ‘14.”

Among the party’s top priorities for the fall session are “three key areas” negatively impacted by the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, which was pushed through by the Tories after a marathon voting session in the House of Commons last June: employment insurance, Old Age Security and environmental legislation.

“My travels across Canada this summer have shown me, especially in regions that have a lot of unemployment, that people are extremely concerned about the changes to employment insurance,” Mulcair said. “Seniors are still very concerned—more and more people who were thinking of retiring in the next few years—about the changes to pensions.

“And of course as you know, it’s one of my principle themes, but it will be a key theme for us in the next election, is sustainable development and the gutting of our environmental legislation by the Conservatives — it’s a great concern across Canada.”

“We will always be a large, resource-based economy, but we’ve lost the balanced economy that we had built up painstakingly since the Second World War.” – Tom Mulcair

On resource development more generally, Mulcair referred to the Northern Gateway pipeline debate, which generated significant attention, as an indication that more Canadians are joining the national conversation about resource development and the economy.

“I think the debate is getting deeper and deeper, and more and more interesting, on the type of development we want in our country,” he continued. “We will always be a large, resource-based economy, but we’ve lost the balanced economy that we had built up painstakingly since the Second World War. It’s become destabilized as we’ve put more and more of our eggs in the resource basket, and we’ve got to look at the fact that we’ve lost 500,000 good paying manufacturing jobs, jobs with enough of a salary for a family to live on…often replaced by part-time precarious work in the service sector. A lot’s being lost by that, so that’s another discussion that’s going to be had as we head into the next campaign and it’s an issue on which the NDP intends to engage the Conservative government.”

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