Arriving back to Montreal in the heat and humidity of late August, I was greeted by hundreds of smiling Thomas Mulcair signs. My mother, who was with me, asked me how many shots it must have taken to make Mulcair look that friendly. She had a point. Prior to the announcement of the election, Mulcair was known for his fiery leadership of the opposition and his reputation as a verbal brawler—quite different from his jovial image on the signs. These contrary conceptions of Mulcair could be explained as campaign strategy, but this contrast is just one manifestation of the seemingly irreconcilable dichotomies of Thomas Mulcair.
From the Canadian oil industry to our economy, Mulcair has no problem making promises to those groups on opposing sides of different issues. The result is a campaign that doesn’t take a firm stand on anything.
Mulcair has backed the Energy East pipeline proposal, one of several proposals on the table to transport Alberta oil to the coasts (the eastern one in this case). Such support stands in almost complete contrast to his longtime prognosis that the Canadian economy has been suffering from Dutch disease, an economic theory that describes how economic development of one sector (in Canada’s case, oil and gas) is causally related to the decline of another (which Mulcair has argued is Canadian manufacturing). This contradictory stance may be a strategy to court both voters who feel that their province or industry is threatened by the Canadian oil industry without totally alienating those who benefit from further industry development.
One of the most significant topics of debate in this election has been what Canada’s budget will look like in the coming years. Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party, has stated that, if elected, there will be a mild deficit while the government intervenes to stimulate the economy. Conversely, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set on balancing the budget. Mulcair has promised both a balanced budget and significant social spending, providing very little explanation on how this can actually be done. He has promised a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by 2019, the creation of a $15 a day universal childcare program, tax relief for small businesses and manufacturers, and reducing the age for seniors to qualify for old age security to 65 (Harper increased it to 67), all while guaranteeing that the budget will be balanced.
The NDP is not known for being particularly strong on the economy. Making a last-minute promise that the budget will be balanced despite a platform of significant social spending is a way for Mulcair to ease concerns of those who are unsure of voting for what is typically Canada’s spending party. With the country in a recession and the oil prices low, students may wonder how the NDP leader believes this will be done.
Mulcair and the NDP have made irreconcilable promises to Canadians in order to garner as many votes as possible. This has resulted in an alarming lack of a stance on some of the most important issues of this federal campaign. If elected, Mulcair and the NDP will have to choose either to implement all of the programs they have promised, or actually work towards a balanced budget. By failing to make that decision during the campaign, while instead promising both, Mulcair demonstrates his willingness to forgo taking an actual stance in order to play both sides of the electoral field. It is clear that Mulcair does stand for one thing — an NDP victory on Oct. 19.