Missed Opportunities: Mulcair, the Ottawa Citizen and a Question of Missed Opportunities

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”

  • John F. Kennedy 

“New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair and his wife have repeatedly refinanced their home west of Montreal, gradually increasing the debt on the property over a series of 11 mortgages, land records show.

Mulcair’s office will not explain why the couple have loaded more and more financing onto the West Island home they’ve lived in since the early 1980s, saying only that it’s a ‘private matter.’”

  • NDP leader has remortgaged his home 11 times since early 1980s, By Glen McGregor, The Ottawa Citizen May 28, 2012

Many of my posts have been about Liberal Policy points of view because that is my love. But every so often, I cannot help being a political pundit. Every so often, I must comment on the politics of the day. So when I heard about Mulcair and his troubles, I just had to speak about it.

For me, both sides missed a real opportunity. Firstly, let us look at the Ottawa Citizen. Increasingly, journalists in Canada have been posting more sensational pieces about politicians. We can think about Rahim Jaffer, Maxime Bernier and Bob Dechert. In Rahim Jaffer’s case, there was an issue of seeking Government influence from his former Tory Colleagues. While Bernier, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was forced to resign from cabinet after he left Secret Government Documents involving our role in Afghanistan with his ex-girlfriend, Julie Couillard. She had ties to the Hells Angels. He is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Beauce in Quebec. Then there was Tory MP Bob Dechert. He sent flirtatious emails to a journalist working for a state-run news agency linked to China’s intelligence services.

What makes all of these situations interesting is the simple acknowledgement that they in some way compromised the Canadian Government. That is why they became newsworthy. When, MP Bob Dechert was cleared by Security Officials, his name disappeared into the ether.

Therefore, by the same test, one has to ask the question why the Ottawa Citizen reported the story. Mr. Mulcair is not in Government, nor was the Canadian State effected by his mortgage. While public officials must expect scrutiny, one must also feel that public officials deserve some respect and/or dignity. Or put differently, many capable people in private industry have taken a risk at one time or another. They may not be proud of that risk and so many of them may not enter public life for fear of the disclosure of those “poor choices”. Should we not treat another person, politician or not, the way we wish to be treated? If there is no crime or malfeasance, do we really need to know? If the government has not been treated wrongly or defrauded, or if a politician has followed the law, where is the story?

These are the questions I ask, for some sort of line must be drawn. In my mind, for there to be a story, a politician must be guilty of doing something wrong and that wrong must potentially effect the laws of Canada or government or our national security to be a story. Up to date, this has not been the case with Mulcair.

In fact, it could be the case that Mulcair could have been doing something productive with the money. For example, many people use money from their house to invest in stocks, buy property or help friends and family out of a jam. In his case, we know that some of the money likely went to the settling of a court case, and that too is an acceptable use of the funds.

This nicely segues me into the missed Opportunity of Mulcair. This brief moment in time provided Mulcair with a platform. He could have given a speech talking about the evils of “Gotcha” politics and how, as a NDP Member of Parliament, he was going to rise above it. Such an act would prove that he was the true successor of Jack Layton.

Mr. Mulcair could have given a speech about the evils of debt within this society. It could have been a moment that he could have used to talk about how the system is rigged against all of us. In fact, it is so problematic that even he, a Leader of the Opposition, has troubles in such a system. That is an argument that he could have made. Like Obama’s comment on his own student debt, Mr. Mulcair could have let us into his life. At this time, he could have reminded Canadian’s about his Party’s promise to limit Credit Card debt. At this time, he could have reminded us legitimately about his Party’s concerns over the structure of the Canadian banking system. Because Like Bill Clinton, Mr. Mulcair would have proven to us that he felt our pain. In this case, it would have been a very literal example.

Or, as I believe is the case, Mr. Mulcair could have told us that he had invested in companies. Such an action would have shown that he is an entrepreneur: A man with business acumen who understands how to create jobs. Imagine if any New Democratic Leader did that. In the States, this could be called a Sister Souljah moment. Recounting a Speech that Bill Clinton gave in 1992, a Sister Souljah moment is a key moment when a candidate takes what at least appears to be a bold stand against certain extremes in their party to seem more moderate. He could have broken the expectations of what it meant to be a leader of the NDP. This move to the right could have solidified his presence as leader of the Progressive Left in Canada – co-opting Liberal and Green Support. But he didn’t.

Instead, Mr. Mulcair wasted the opportunity. His office said it was a private matter and let the whole issue vanish. Consequently, Mr. Mulcair has given pundits and extremists a tool to punish him with. Extremist blogs on the right have predictably painted this as evidence that Mr. Mulcair cannot manage money. While, mainstream pundits have been coy; for regardless of stripe, they have said everything from “it’s a non-story” to “voters will have to judge form themselves”.

This all brings me back to one point: Politics is not easy but it is for the brave. If Edison’s words are true (i.e. “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”), then both Mulcair and the Ottawa Citizen missed a golden opportunity. For me, that is a sad thing. In this world of Twitter, Canadians are missing real leadership. The Media will not give it because they are either navel gazing or scared of not being objective. While, politicians are scared of their base or making a mistake; thereby being too timid to lead. Neither is willing to do the hard work that is necessary: Work that characterized the governments of Chretien, Mulroney, Trudeau, Pearson, Diefenbaker, St. Laurent, Laurier and even Sir John A. MacDonald.

There are real issues out there. They are not limited to but include federal and provincial budgets, the economy and our environment. All of those issues require hard conversations about the collection of taxes and the interests of many stakeholders including shareholders, property owners, citizens, corporations and the public and MUSH sectors. As a country, we need people that can balance those interests. We need people who understand how “to care for the Other”. All of this takes real courage, strength and real leadership. I hope the rest of our Political Class is not like Mulcair and the Ottawa Citizen: I hope they can rise to the challenge of real leadership. Or as a minimum, I hope our Party – the Liberal Party – can lead the charge to a new future. Otherwise, we might be lost – as a country – for a while.

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