Tom Mulcair sincerely hopes Canada does not face another referendum on Quebec independence.
But if it does, there will be no wiggle room or confusion on the question of where he stands.
“If there is one, I know where I’ll be,” said the leader of Canada’s Official Opposition Wednesday morning in Tillsonburg. “I’ll be fighting for Canada.”
First elected to the House of Commons in the Montreal riding of Outremont in 2007, Mulcair was re-elected in 2008 and 2011. In the last election, considered then-leader Jack Layton’s ‘right hand’ by his party, Mulcair is credited as one of the architects of the ‘orange wave’ in Quebec, where currently 59 NDP MPs sit, compared to eight Liberals, five Conservatives, four members of the Bloc Quebecois, and one Independent. He was elected leader of the New Democratic Party and the Official Opposition in March, 2012.
Mulcair has very personally experienced the divisiveness of previous referendum campaigns, and has no wish to enter another. He believes Quebeckers are as interested in core issues like employment and health care as religious symbols. But if required to be part of a future referendum, he pledged to do so in the open manner of his former leader, focusing on the positives, rather than resorting to wedge or divisive politics.
Mulcair said he would emphasize those positives, not just in and for his home province, but throughout a nation that benefits from Quebec as part of a uniquely Canadian model.
“Languages and culture coming together to create something fantastic.”
The question came up given the Parti Quebecois’ lead in polls on the eve of a provincial election, a lead strong enough currently to suggest the potential for a majority government. But Mulcair, formerly the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks in Quebec’s National Assembly, headed to Tillsonburg for a tour of the Erie Structures greenhouse plant with a different focus: jobs, sustainability and local food production.
The smell inside the plant was a familiar one for the Leader of The Official Opposition, who, as one of 10 children, was employed in a steel factory as he earned his way through law school.
“I had to work hard,” he said.
Mulcair and company had warmed up for their visit to town with a ‘carload karaoke’ version of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ Tillsonburg en route.
“We were singing it on the way down,” Mulcair admitted with a laugh.
And while even first acquaintance reveals there’s little doubt Mulcair could sing better than most, the Leader of the Official Opposition was instead using an enviable voice to discuss tobacco’s past history and resurgence, before moving forward to focus on the jobs, environmental sustainability and local food production all represented at the plant.
“He killed several birds with one stone,” credited Brad Martin, of Martin Farms near Amherstburg.
Erie Structures produces ‘turn key’ greenhouse operations for a variety of different crops. A natural gas generator is key to the product, producing heat, hydro for grow lights and CO2 for the plants. As well as not drawing electrical power, during warmer temperatures, the generator can produce surplus hydro which can be sold back to the grid.
“It’s not just ‘co-gen’ (co-generation), it’s ‘tri-gen,’” said Martin, who looks to use the Erie Structures model for cucumber production. “We’re doing three operations off one system and the bottom line is, we’re producing food.”
“The people here working on these special projects are to be congratulated,” credited Mulcair.
Contemporary consumers prefer food produced in Canada over that shipped, from for example South America or Eastern Europe, he said, citing benefits of sustainable local food production including energy savings, environmental benefits and job creation.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
The proximity of the adjacent Siemens wind turbine blade plant led to a question on green energy, and opposition to some forms thereof. Mulcair suggested a ‘social’ versus simply financial contract model in his home province, an effort to communicate the overall benefits in terms of jobs and sustainability at the local level, in an attempt to build consensus, rather than dictate policy.
“If you try to bulldoze people in this day and age, it’s not going to work.”
Before leaving, Mulcair did refer to ‘the (future federal election) campaign,’ in conjunction with indicating his first visit to the area may well not be his last.
“We’ll come back,” he said prior to departure. “I want to see one of these installed when it’s up and running.”
Mulcair left a positive impression in his wake, not only via what he said, but in the fact a politician of his stature had made the stop a priority.
“It shows political interest from our MPs in small business,” said Erie Structures Vice President Joel DenDekker.
“And agriculture,” added Micki Tremblay, of Martin Farms.
Erie Structures President Will DenDekker found Mulcair to be a ‘nice guy, very calm,’ as well as intelligent and interested in the operation.
“And he understood what we are doing.”
“It’s time our politicians took some interest in agriculture,” Tremblay added, a sentiment echoed by Martin.
“Agriculture is your number on industry here in Ontario,” he concluded. “It’s not the auto industry – work your numbers.”