SAINT JOHN - Federal opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and New Brunswick NDP leader Dominic Cardy took questions from media yesterday, after their speeches at the provincial party's convention in Saint John. Topics ranged from the NDP becoming the go-to party on environmental issues, to it's open-minded policies on working with the corporate community, something it hasn't been known for in the past.
The party has gained momentum across the country since the NDP became the official opposition in Parliament last year. Although the death of beloved leader Jack Layton was a setback to the NDP's aspirations to gain a broader national foothold, the recent election of Mulcair by the party to replace him seems to have fanned the flames.
Yesterday Mulcair's leadership style was on display, an erudite intellectualism communicated in both English and French, with a ready smile and open manner. His comportment, while gentle, gives the sense he has the taste for blood politics requires. More a Trudeau than a Layton.
His convention speech wasted no time in taking the Harper government to task on issues the NDP see as attacking the Canadian economy. He criticized the OAS decision as "arrogant"; said dismantling the wheat board was illegal; that cuts to provincial transfers was being done with no discussion.
While covering the environmental impacts of the Alberta oil sands in his speech, Mulcair pointed a finger directly at the New Brunswick government when he said, "The people are right to stand up to fracking...the Conservatives are not being honest."
Mulcair had the opportunity to also attend the Ontario NDP convention this weekend, but chose New Brunswick instead. He has made several trips to the province in the past 6 months, no doubt due in part to his strong working relationship with Cardy, who endorsed Mulcair at the party's leadership convention in March. Mulcair re-paid the favor in Saint John by showing up to support Cardy and give the party a higher profile in the minds of the provincial electorate.
Riding the wave of the orange surge this past year, Cardy came out strong in his speech at the convention, speaking with conviction that his party is ready to be in New Brunswick's Legislature. The energy in the room could be felt beyond the chanting and cheering of the NDP delegates who naturally believe Cardy should be in the House. There was a feeling of an ascendancy coming; that perhaps the time is finally right for the NDP to have more of a place in provincial politics.
The New Brunswick NDP is trying to position itself as the obvious alternative to the stale old politics currently being practiced in the New Brunswick Legislature between the ruling Conservatives and opposing Liberals. Both the Liberals and Conservatives are commonly seen as having botched it, with the Liberals shooting themselves in the foot with NB Power and the Conservatives breaking promise after promise as the sitting government.
The theme around yesterday's convention was "Constructive Opposition." And while he derided the actions of the Social Development department in his speech for banning pets in affordable housing rather than dealing with more important issues, Cardy also signaled a willingness to work with business, reflecting the change in the wider party on a national level. This may bring the NDP up the middle between the two other traditional parties in the next provincial election. (If, that is, the delegates can keep the bigger picture in mind. A few times yesterday they got bogged down in quibbling about minor issues, but the sharp chair in charge continued to move them along).
Both men walked away from the podium after their speeches to hoots and hollers of approval from delegates. In the ensuing media scrum, Cardy let it be known he and Mulcair are on the same page for moving the party forward.