Tom Mulcair supporters speak out as knives sharpen for NDP leader

After a week of bad press for Tom Mulcair, his supporters are starting to speak out in favour of the beleaguered NDP leader.

NDP leader continues to face pressure to step down ahead of April leadership vote

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau with NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair in 2011. Mulcair stepped up to mentor Brosseau when she was first elected and she is throwing her support behind the NDP leader in advance of the party's policy convention in early April. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

After a week of bad press for Tom Mulcair, his supporters are starting to speak out in favour of the beleaguered NDP leader.

Two young Quebec MPs who were supported by Mulcair at the start of their political career say they will back the NDP leader in Edmonton when he faces a do-or-die moment at the party's convention next month.

And the head of a major union — the Steelworkers —is also stepping up.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who made headlines in the 2011 election campaign over a vacation trip to Las Vegas, said few people took her seriously when she was first elected. But Mulcair believed in her.

"Tom really reached out to me after the election, along with Jack (Layton)," she said. "Tom was really there from the beginning."

Brosseau said Mulcair helped her get through the first few weeks, months and years of being a rookie MP.

"He was a really important figure helping me ... he trusted me," she said. "He really encouraged me to get over this hump and just work hard."

Lining up support

She said members of her riding association will also be voting in favour of Mulcair during his leadership review.

Matthew Dube, a former McGill student also elected to the Commons in the NDP's 2011 orange wave, said he, too, supports Mulcair.

Dube said it was Mulcair who first convinced him to become a member of the party and that support continued after he was elected.

"He played a big role in making sure, even if it wasn't always him directly, working closely with Jack to make sure that we had the mentorship necessary not only to not fall on our faces but also to excel in the work that we needed to do," Dube said.

Getting rid of such an experienced leader is a bad idea given all of the work Mulcair has done, he added.

"He did really do such a great job in Parliament and still does right now .... despite everything else that is going on," Dube said.

Facing pressure

The NDP leader is facing increased pressure from rank-and-file members to show why he deserves to stay on as leader following a disastrous campaign which punted the party back to third party status.

The party has made a concerted effort to return to its leftist roots following the election but there is a whisper campaign about whether Mulcair is the right frontman for this movement. The same concerns were echoed during the leadership race in 2012 by party members including former leader Ed Broadbent.

A group of critics such as Sid Ryan, a former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, have recently come out swinging against the leader.

Ken Neumann, the national director of the United Steelworkers union, released a direct response to that criticism this week and in support of Mulcair.

"Many of us share the belief that there are things that could have been done better during the last campaign, but public attacks ... are not how we build a strong social democratic movement," he said.

"To see movement on these important issues, we need a tough, articulate and experienced question-period fighter like Tom Mulcair to lead our movement."

New direction

Matters were made worse this week for Mulcair when a group of 37 New Democrat activists from Quebec, including three defeated MPs, is also calling for new direction.

Jamie Nicholls, Elaine Michaud and Helene LeBlanc said they did not feel represented in the NDP electoral platform they had to defend last year.

And at a press conference in Ottawa, NDP MP Niki Ashton also refused to categorically state whether she wants Mulcair to stay on as party leader.

She ran against Mulcair for leader in 2012.

"It's up to members to decide how they want to go forward," she said.

The NDP leader has refused to say what level of support would prompt him to quit but NDP President Rebecca Blaikie has suggested 70 per cent is likely the threshold.


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