Tom Mulcair challenged over niqab, pipelines on Tout le monde en parle

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had to grin and bear it during an appearance on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle Sunday, when the host of the popular program noted the word niqab is worth about as many points in Scrabble as it has cost the NDP in support in Quebec.

NDP leader has his 20 minutes on influential Quebec TV program

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair takes questions from the crowd during a campaign stop in Montreal last Thursday. Mulcair also taped an episode of Radio-Canada's popular Tout le monde en parle while in Montreal, which aired Sunday night. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair had to grin and bear it during an appearance on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle Sunday evening.

He was questioned repeatedly by host Guy A. Lepage about his stand on the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women.

"In Scrabble, the niqab is a word that's worth 14 points, and that's about as many points as you've lost in the polls over it," Lepage ribbed the New Democrat leader.

Mulcair answered with the message he's stuck to for the last two weeks: while he is uncomfortable with the veil personally, in a society with the rule of law, the courts must be respected.

He was also grilled on where he stood on the proposed Energy East Pipeline project, and he reiterated his stand: without proper environmental evaluation, it cannot proceed.

Tom or Thomas?

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair appears on Quebec's influential and popular television program Tout le Monde en Parle on Sunday. (Tout le Monde en Parle/ICI Radio-Canada)

And he was asked what his real name is: Tom (as he's known in English Canada) or Thomas (in Quebec)? Mulcair answered that his siblings called him Tommy, but in his working life, everyone else has always called him Tom.

(Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has accused Mulcair of being two-faced: Tom in English Canada, where he supports pipelines, and the more French Thomas in Quebec, where he does not.)

Tout le monde en parle reaches about 1.3 million Quebecers every week. In 2011, then NDP leader Jack Layton's appearance during the campaign made him a favourite among Quebecers, who, just weeks later, gave his party a surprising 59 out of 75 seats in Quebec.

But Layton was more relaxed and entertaining than Mulcair, who was delivering a hard sell to Quebecers: that the NDP is the only real alternative to the two natural governing parties, the Liberals and Conservatives. He spoke passionately of his desire not just to defeat Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, but "to beat him."

He portrayed the Liberals as being too close to the Conservatives on policies like corporate tax cuts and bill C-51, which increases power to Canada's security forces in order to fight terrorism.

A 'three-coloured popsicle'

The show is taped Thursday evenings in front of a live audience, then edited down to a couple of hours and rebroadcast on Sunday night.

Part of the experience is the online chatter that accompanies it, particularly on Twitter, where host Guy A. Lepage interacts with viewers. Sunday, many of the responses seemed party-driven, with Bloc Québécois supporters saying they found Mulcair lacked credibility. Other NDP supporters lauded the work of the incumbent MPs and Mulcair's messages during the program.

At the end of Mulcair's 20-minute appearance, Lepage's on-stage sidekick handed the politician a bottle of Tums antacid to get through the campaign and a message written on a business-card, which read: Looks like the orange wave is turning into a three-coloured popsicle. It referred to the tight three-way race that seems to be developing in many Quebec ridings.

Although there was much political buzz about his appearance, Mulcair wasn't the biggest draw. That honour probably went to Italian beauty Monica Bellucci, the latest "Bond woman," who was in Montreal to promote a Quebec film (Ville-Marie) she's starring in.

Another headliner was one of the women who have levelled accusations of sexual harassment against Canadian Olympic Committee head Marcel Aubut, in a scandal that saw him step aside this week. For the first time in the show's history, a guest's face was blurred to keep their identity secret.


Nancy Wood


Nancy Wood is a copy editor at CBC Montreal.


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