September 10, 2013 7:31 pm
Updated: September 11, 2013 10:09 am

Blog: Does Thomas Mulcair have an image problem?

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Above: Global National’s Shirlee Engel asks Thomas Mulcair if he needs to work on his image

Image is everything in politics. You can be the smartest guy in the room, but if people don’t like you, you’ve got a problem.

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The late Jack Layton knew this well. Cane in hand, with an ear-to-ear smile, he steamrolled over the less likeable, more serious Michael Ignatieff in the last election. The NDP’s policies were picked apart by pundits, but one poll crowned Layton the federal leader most Canadians would prefer to have a beer with.

Believe it or not, that mattered.

Though he worked at that image for years, Layton’s charisma eventually paid off at the ballot box, allowing him to ride the orange wave to Stornoway.

His successor Thomas Mulcair’s steely, sometimes angry demeanour has earned him a very different image – justified or not. Despite a long track record as a politician Mulcair will proudly boast about, he’s losing ground to the younger, less-experienced Justin Trudeau in the polls. He’s losing to an untested politician who has yet to put some policy in the shop window.

Why?

At the NDP caucus retreat in Saskatoon, I asked Mulcair if he has an image problem.

“I’ve been working on issues of public protection all my life,” he answered in a serious tone, adding that he’s had to”stand up to very strong interests. ”

There was no hint of a smile. No recognition that this was an opportunity to talk about himself. Sell his personality. Have some fun.

He pressed on.

Mulcair spoke of his “epic battle” with the president of College of Physicians and Surgeons 25 years ago. He pointed out his “strong track record of public administration.”

“People are looking for someone who can reflect their values and actually do the job. That’s the person I am. That’s the background I have. And that’s the experience and the expertise and the leadership that I bring to the job,” he concluded.

How exactly does Mulcair reflect people’s values? He didn’t elaborate.

This wasn’t a job interview. My simple question was whether he needed to work on his likability, his personal image.

Instead, he listed off more examples of his steely resolve.

It will be interesting to see how that image evolves over the next two years, with answers like that.

© 2013 Shaw Media

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