Politics

Tom Mulcair will face caucus for 1st time since election losses Wednesday

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will emerge in public Wednesday afternoon for the first time since losing nearly half of his caucus on Oct. 19.

NDP leader will face secret-ballot leadership review in April

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is preparing to meet his caucus for the first time since its disappointing losses on Oct. 19. He's expected to set the agenda for New Democrats now that they are the third party in the House of Commons. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Tom Mulcair will break three weeks of public silence Wednesday with an address to his New Democratic Party caucus — the first in a series of speeches this week by the NDP leader to begin a critical political period that culminates with a secret-ballot leadership review at the party's April convention.

Mulcair's speech to new MPs Wednesday will be open to the media. NDP staffers say the leader will acknowledge the results of the last campaign but also try to focus attention on the coming parliamentary period.

Party insiders say Mulcair is keen to get back into the House. It's a forum he enjoys and in which he was seen to thrive before Parliament dissolved for the election.

Making good use of that opportunity to shine could be crucial to protecting Mulcair's hold on the leadership of the NDP.

The NDP's fortunes have significantly diminished since 2011, when the party won 103 seats and formed the Official Opposition. In this latest election the NDP vote collapsed, in particular in Quebec, and the NDP won just 44 seats.

The party spin is that this is the NDP's second-best result, ever, but it is still acknowledged as a defeat.

Mulcair is said to feel no pressure to apologize for his own role in the Oct. 19 results. The leader apparently feels good about his own campaign effort, despite the outcome. He was even willing to take part in a 22 Minutes gag airing Tuesday night that had him dancing to "Hotline Bling" by Canadian rapper Drake.

22 Minutes tracked him down - dancing to Drake 0:20

Leadership vote

The party does not have a tradition of infighting or intrigue, and instead typically allows its leaders to choose on their own whether and when to resign.

But the party's biennial convention is scheduled for April, and its constitution demands a secret ballot be held on whether to hold a leadership convention.

That fact of the political calendar and the convention's proximity to the election loss could pose a problem for Mulcair if the party's membership becomes restive.

It's perhaps no coincidence that Mulcair will follow his public caucus address Wednesday with two speeches in British Columbia this weekend, when he will address the national convention of the Canadian Union of Public Employees as well as the B.C. NDP convention.

Defeated NDP MP Paul Dewar will head up the party's transition out of the Official Opposition role. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

One losing incumbent MP, Paul Dewar, has been appointed to lead the party's transition from second place to third, a process that CBC News has learned also includes the structure of the party's parliamentary team, including communications and research support to caucus.

There will also be a committee formed to examine the election results and to learn the lessons of defeat. It will include both new and former MPs as well as campaign staff.

Following several background conversations with MPs, it seems there is a willingness to accept the party's loss without anger. Instead, MPs are expressing sadness and disappointment.

The party, though, has taken steps to insulate itself from any potential public embarrassment Wednesday by declining to invite defeated MPs to attend caucus, as the Conservative Party has done. Instead, the new and old teams will have an opportunity to meet Thursday at a two-hour reception.

Much of the commiseration has already occurred.

Last Wednesday, an impromptu gathering occurred at an Ottawa pub popular with New Democrats called Brixton's. It's possible there could be another such event this week as the party's MPs, new and old, converge in Ottawa.

Looking forward

Mulcair's speech Wednesday is expected to last just a few minutes, before the caucus doors are closed to the media and the party begins the real work of setting its priorities for the parliamentary session, which will include:

  • The environment.
  • Missing and murdered aboriginal women.
  • Electoral reform.
  • Syrian refugees.

There is opportunity for the NDP to position itself once again on the progressive side of the Liberal Party, after having been outflanked in the last campaign.

Insiders say the NDP parliamentary caucus will seek to hold the Liberals to account and ensure the new government lives up to its many and varied promises.

The caucus Wednesday will have to undertake some housekeeping duties, including new responsibilities laid out in the Reform Act.

NDP MPs, led by long-serving MP Brian Masse, will vote to decide which of four optional reforms in the act will apply to the NDP caucus with respect to the selection and changing of leaders and the removal of caucus members.

Some New Democrats have already suggested they are cool to these reforms.

New faces in the NDP caucus

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      About the Author

      James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.

      With files from Hannah Thibedeau

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