Food for Thought: Tom Mulcair on partisanship, leaving politics and the future of the NDP

Food for Thought with outgoing MP and former party leader Tom Mulcair
Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair sits down with Eric Sorensen at his favourite restaurant across the river from Parliament Hill to talk about what he will miss on the Hill and his plans after politics.

If there’s one thing the man sometimes known as ‘Angry Tom’ Mulcair won’t miss about leaving Parliament Hill, it’s the fights.

After almost 11 years representing the Montreal riding of Outremont in the House of Commons, the former NDP federal leader known for his fierce attacks during question period and elsewhere on the Hill is getting ready to tuck away his MP pin and transition to being a full-time professor.

READ MORE: Ex-NDP leader Tom Mulcair to teach at Université de Montréal

Mulcair sat down with Global’s Eric Sorensen for The West Block at Arôme, an upscale eatery in Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Que., and while debates in the classroom might not be quite what they were in the House of Commons, he’s just fine with that.

“It’s actually the fighting itself, the hyper partisanship — and I’m a real partisan, I live in a very big glass house when it comes to being a partisan politician — but that’s the part I’m going to miss the least,” he said.

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It was back in 2012 that Mulcair took over the helm of the party after the death of Jack Layton to cancer just weeks after the 2011 election.

The so-called “Orange Wave” led by Layton had propelled the NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time and a team of young, first-time politicians into the House of Commons.

With the Liberal party in tatters, much of the job of holding the government to account in the House of Commons fell to Mulcair, and by the time the 2015 election rolled around, there were many who expected the party under him to do as well — if not better — than it had in the last campaign.

Instead, Canadians handed the Liberals a majority government and returned the NDP to third-party status.

Six months later, the party decided to dump Mulcair.

WATCH BELOW: Thomas Mulcair ousted as NDP leader

Thomas Mulcair ousted as NDP leader
Thomas Mulcair ousted as NDP leader

Asked whether he thought the party took out its frustrations at the loss on him, Mulcair did not refute the notion.

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“Fair enough,” he said. “I mean, such is life.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was elected last fall but so far has stumbled over issues ranging from Quebec separatism and Sikh extremism to party discipline.

COMMENTARY: Jagmeet Singh needs to brush up on basic communications strategy

Last week, Singh dumped a veteran caucus member from his post on a powerful House of Commons committee because the MP, David Christopherson, voted out of sync with the party.

Prominent caucus members, including former leadership rival and NDP MP Charlie Angus, criticized the move publicly before Singh backed down and reversed the punishment.

COMMENTARY: Jagmeet Singh and the NDP’s Quebec conundrum

Mulcair did not weigh in on the recent foibles but suggested transitioning into the role of leader can come with challenges.

“Transition is transition,” he said. “I had the benefit of being there in Parliament when Jack left us.”

READ MORE: Thomas Mulcair ‘unlikely’ to run for office in 2019

He continued, noting while he hopes to continue to play a role with the party, he also wants to leave space for the new team to come into its own.

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“I couldn’t have a stronger desire to see Jagmeet Singh and his team succeed in the next election,” he said.

“I really wish him well. I’d love to become that Stephen Lewis personality being invited back to conventions but right now I’m taking a very reserved approach because, of course, I have to leave as much room as I can to Mr. Singh.”

EXTENDED VIDEO: Food for Thought with Tom Mulcair

Extended: Food for Thought with Tom Mulcair
Extended: Food for Thought with Tom Mulcair

As for what comes next, Mulcair says the courses he will be teaching will mostly focus on sustainable development.

But don’t expect his desire to stay involved with the party to come in the form of evangelizing students, he said.

“I have far too much respect for students to try to convince them to go to one political party — but I will try and convince them to get involved.”

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