Thomas Mulcair grew up in a Montreal suburb as the second-oldest of 10 children in his family, which is noteworthy enough. Even more remarkable, though, at least by today's standards, is that he remembers his parents hoping for just a few more kids. "When my mother would have a child," the NDP leader recalled recently, "my father would always bring her 14 roses, because they decided when they were married that they would have 14 children." His father, Harry, was an insurance man of Irish-Catholic descent, and his mother, Jeanne, a teacher from an old French-Canadian family, was of course Catholic, too. For another public figure, details like these might be mere background colour. In Mulcair's case, apart from the roses, every bit of it--the many brothers and sisters, the Quebec roots, a Catholicism devout enough to entail mass on weekdays before school, even the Irish streak--is central to his emergence as a formidable political fighter and plausible future prime minister.