Saturday September 26, 2015

Tom Mulcair staged a high school sit-in... to bring back recess

Tom Mulcair as a young man. (He's the one with the beard).

Tom Mulcair as a young man. (He's the one with the beard). (Photo Courtesy: NDP "I'm Ready" Advertisement)

Listen 4:06

John Mac Master met NDP Leader Tom Mulcair when they were 14 years old and attending junior high school in Laval, Que. The two became fast friends, but there was one particular moment that sealed their bond.

Their school wanted to get rid of a recess. 

"We were in high dudgeon about this. The way only adolescent males can get," said Mac Master.

Indignant, the two teenage boys decided they had to take action. So they organized a protest.

I don't know how it came to happen, but we organized a sit-in. We marched out of class, went down to a common area and sat on the floor and refused to go back to class until they gave us back our recess. - John Mac Master

Their act of civil disobedience lasted approximately one hour. The teachers, impressed by Mulcair and Mac Master's teenaged revolt, caved. Recess was restored. 

"I went in to union negotiation later in life and I think that was one of the reasons why," laughed Mac Master.

Father Alan Cox

Father Alan Cox, school chaplain and one of Tom Mulcair's early mentors. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook / Father Alan Cox 1935-2013)

But Mulcair's relationship with his teachers wasn't always as antagonistic as it was during his recess rebellion. According to Mac Master, there was one particular mentor that took Mulcair under his wing - Father Alan Cox, the chaplain for Laval Catholic High School. 

Cox spent years tending to the spiritual lives of Catholic high school students, but Mac Master said he didn't pull any punches.

"He was in our face," recalled Mac Master, who said Father Cox would ask questions like: "What are you here for? What's the meaning of your life? Are you just here to get a girl in to bed [..] or does your life have more meaning than that?'" 

Tom Mulcair at Laval Catholic School

A grown-up Mulcair at Laval Catholic High School, where he met John Mac Master and Father Alan Cox. (Photo Courtesy: Laval Catholic High School)

Father Cox passed away in 2013, but remained friends with Mulcair long after graduation. 

"Father Cox treated him almost like a son," said Mac Master. "He became quite a mentor to him all the way through his life."

DNTO's episode about the personal stories behind our party leaders airs Saturday, September 26th at 3 p.m. on CBC Radio One.