And he shows his obvious enjoyment in the detailed, meticulous and vast interchange of the minutia of political give and take and policy discussions.
This is a man who revels in standing up in the House and debating details. A man who loves face to face, one on one, verbal conflict in a parliamentary setting.
A man who would love to be cast in the role of a Canadian-Kissinger, jetting back and forth between parties in conflict, trying through rigorous reason to split the right hairs so as to reconcile the parties, and end up with an agreed, significant compromise.
Like a Meech Lake Accord, or a Charlottetown Accord.
Like constitutional wrangling, ala Canada-style: provinces and territories and federal governments all in the thick of it, tabling positions, marshalling forces, trading horses. Practising elitist politics.
Justin Trudeau has just pulled his rabbit out of his hat: a dramatic move to actually reform the way the Senate functions, by removing – at least on the side the former Liberal Senators sat – the partisanship conflicts inherent in a party-aligned chamber of sober second thought. And thereby reducing the need for and opportunity for sleazy patronage by a prime minister.
Trudeau’s proposal has been favourably received by a majority of respondents in a poll, and has met with the support of the former Liberal Senate leader James Cowan:
We are in uncharted waters. No party leader in the history of Canada has taken such a decisive step and encouraged members of his party to openly disagree with him on any matter that may arise – to vote, even if the vote defeats a measure he has advanced. No party leader has demonstrated such confidence in a free and open Parliament best serving Canadians.We have the challenge and opportunity to work with Canadians to create a new kind of Senate, where partisanship means taking the part of Canadians, first, last and always. That is Justin Trudeau’s vision for the Senate – and it is my vision, as well.
But Thomas Mulcair’s reaction is startlingly different from that of most commentators on Trudeau’s bold, practical and significant move. After taking credit for the idea of removing senators from the Parliamentary caucus of political parties, Mulcair has ventured where no other politician has dared to go: He wants constitutional negotiation to take place in Canada.
What else is behind his taunt to Trudeau?:
Trudeau has long pointed out that abolishing the Senate outright, as Mulcair advocates, cannot be done at the stroke of a pen; it would require Constitutional change, which would entail a conference, on the order of Meech or Charlottetown in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The gambit pushes Mulcair further into the open on this front. Indeed Wednesday morning, in reacting to the news, the NDP leader accused Trudeau of being unwilling to do “the hard work” of constitutional change.
What Mulcair is clearly saying is that he is prepared to open up negotiations with the provinces on amending the Constitution of Canada. He seems to relish this – his policy is the elimination of the Senate, which clearly requires amendment to the Constitution.
Where does that lead the country? And what perils does Mulcair’s desire to huddle in rooms with the premiers to debate amendments to the Constitution pose for Mulcair and for his NDP party?
Perhaps this conclusion of Brian Mulroney’s fate gives us a hint:
Probably the biggest result of the referendum, however, was the effect of most of Canada's population voting against an agreement endorsed by every first minister and most other political groups. This stinging rebuke against the "political class" in Canada was a preview of things to come — in the federal election on October 25, 1993, a year less a day after the Charlottetown referendum, the Progressive Conservatives under new leader and prime minister Kim Campbell were reduced to two seats. They were replaced in most Western ridings by the Reform Party and in Quebec by the Bloc Québécois, the parties who had opposed the Accord. The NDP was also decimated, winning just nine seats, as the party's pro-Charlottetown stance alienated many Prairie voters who turned to Reform as the new party of Western protest. The Liberals, despite their support for the accord, had a new leader in Jean Chrétien, and won a large majority in the new Parliament due to their near-sweep of Ontario. There, only a minority of the voters who had opposed the accord were willing to vote for the Reform Party.
Mulcar is an intelligent man. He must know (unless he is foolish, which I doubt), that any reopening of Constitutional amendment negotiations will lead to most provinces tabling their own wish lists.
Where would Canada stand in those negotiations?
On the one hand, we have Mulcair’s NDP, which has decided to openly flout the law dealing with any province seceding, as outlined by our Supreme Court. And the NDP is now faced with a difficult battle to keep its grip on the MPs that were elected in 2011.
In these decisions, Mulcair and the NDP have misunderstood what drove voters in Quebec to vote for the Layton-led NDP in 2011. It was not because they suddenly realized that the NDP politics of redistribution rather than wealth creation were the best thing for the province. Or that they wished for more political wrangling.
On the contrary, they wanted politics to work.
Mulcair’s need to preserve the geographical bastion of NDP MPs will force him in any Constitutional negotiations to choose the side of Quebec over the rest of Canada, as he believes his party has done with its flouting of the Supreme Court rules for any attempt to dissolve Canada.
How do Trudeau’s views compare to Mulcairs?
Like chalk to cheese.
Like father, like son.
Pierre Trudeau spelled out his view of what Canada should look like.
And Justin Trudeau has done the same in clear language. Some voters now see Justin as fighting for Canada:
Steve Williams of Calgary said he once shook Pierre Trudeau’s hand, voted for Peter Lougheed several times, and once for Preston Manning: “Justin makes me smile, he represents hope,” he said. His wife Deva agreed: “Justin’s fighting for Canada.”
Thomas Mulcair is risking the same fate that befell Brian Mulroney: rejection by the voters in a tidal wave of disapproval, for plunging our country back into the black hole of Constitutional conflict.
This is what happened to Mulroney, when he faced Pierre Trudeau over his proposed Constitutional amendments:
Mulroney simply could not demonstrate the supreme intellectual self-confidence and clarity of purpose that Pierre Trudeau could. Rather than successfully making the case for the traditionally more decentralized Conservative vision of Canada, he sounded more like a hired Quebec advocate than a Canadian Prime Minister...Trudeau, lofty authoritarianism and all, had an instinctive grasp of mass politics in the mass media age, which he continued to exploit without elected office. He could always provide at least the illusion that he commanded events; Mulroney never gave a similar impression, looking more like a man who had tried to set up a conjuring trick, only to have his stage apparatus collapse, with rabbits and doves fleeing in all directions.
A like fate awaits Mulcair should he open Pandora’s Box with his Senate abolition policy, when faced by the younger Trudeau. He, too, runs the risk of being seen as a prime minister who is simply a waiter, tending to the needs of the premiers:
It was [Pierre Trudeau] who once said, "The prime minister of Canada is not the head-waiter of the provinces." And a question that Mr. Trudeau once asked seems even more apt today: Who stands for Canada?
Thomas Mulcair should heed the caution by Chantal Herbert:
An Angus Reid poll done in the immediate aftermath of Trudeau’s endorsement of a non-partisan Senate found a majority (52 per cent) in support of the proposal and only 16 per cent against. (About one-third are still undecided).Trudeau is essentially but not exclusively tapping into a major backlash against the Senate...On that score support in the Angus poll was particularly high among people who have voted for the NDP in the past.That should probably not be confused with a secret attachment on the part of New Democrat sympathizers for an institution that their party has long vowed to abolish.But it does show that even within Mulcair’s ranks many are not convinced that he can bring his Senate plan to constitutional fruition.
Leave those Constitutional ghosts be, Mr. Mulcair.