By John Geddes - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 0 Comments
John Geddes on the NDP leader’s rise through the ruthless world of Quebec politics to become the PM’s toughest opponent yet
Thomas Mulcair grew up in a Montreal suburb as the second-oldest of 10 children in his family, which is noteworthy enough. Even more remarkable, though, at least by today’s standards, is that he remembers his parents hoping for just a few more kids. “When my mother would have a child,” the NDP leader recalled recently, “my father would always bring her 14 roses, because they decided when they were married that they would have 14 children.” His father, Harry, was an insurance man of Irish-Catholic descent, and his mother, Jeanne, a teacher from an old French-Canadian family, was of course Catholic, too. For another public figure, details like these might be mere background colour. In Mulcair’s case, apart from the roses, every bit of it—the many brothers and sisters, the Quebec roots, a Catholicism devout enough to entail mass on weekdays before school, even the Irish streak—is central to his emergence as a formidable political fighter and plausible future prime minister.
By his own account in an interview with Maclean’s, backed up by the observations of some who have worked closely with him, Mulcair’s upbringing in such a large, tightly knit, complex household remains the template for his important relationships. Aides and allies say he maintains unusually close contact with family and old friends, cultivating an intensely personal network and leaning on time-tested loyalties more than most top politicians. While he is no longer an observant churchgoer, Mulcair’s brand of left-leaning politics flows directly out of his home province’s distinctive and deep well of progressive Catholicism—a powerful influence on seminal Quebec politicians of the past, including Pierre Trudeau. As for Mulcair’s Irishness, Graham Carpenter, an old family friend and long-time aide, alludes to his “Irish world view,” and not jokingly, as an explanation for Mulcair’s storied scrappiness and more. “There’s mystique to it,” Carpenter says, “that’s for sure.”