OTTAWA — Tom Mulcair suggested in a television interview Sunday that he might have held on to his job as NDP leader if the party's convention had not been in held in Alberta.
Speaking to Tout Le Monde En Parle, a popular show on Radio-Canada, Mulcair also hinted things might have gone much smoother for his leadership review in Edmonton — where he received a crushing 48 per cent of support — if all NDP members — not just delegates at the convention — had been able to vote.
Mulcair appears on Tout Le Monde En Parle on Sunday, April 17, 2016. (Photo: Screengrab)
"I was elected by totality of the members of the party," Mulcair told host Guy Lepage. "And effectively, in Alberta, we were delegates. So, in this particular place there were people from there," he said.
"So, you think if it had happened in Toronto or elsewhere it could have been different," Lepage asked.
"Maybe," Mulcair responded. "Last time in Montreal, it went passably much better."
During the 2012 NDP leadership convention in Toronto, Mulcair was elected on the fourth ballot with 57.2 per cent under a one-member-one-vote system. At the party's delegated convention in Montreal in 2013, Mulcair received 92.3 per cent support from the 2,026 delegates in the room.
But that was before the NDP ran a terrible election campaign and blew a first-place lead in public opinion polls before losing 59 seats, more than half of the party's caucus. The party now sits in third place.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is applauded at the NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday, April 10, 2016. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)
During his interview, the first since his leadership review, Mulcair said his position on pipelines might have hurt his chances in Alberta. He called the debate over fossil fuels "divisive" and said, without elaborating, that it was "a place where it was more difficult."
Mulcair, perhaps more strongly than ever before, said his position on pipelines is that he continues "to be against the development of new pipelines until and for as long as we don't take into account the production of greenhouse gases and our international responsibility to work against climate change."
"It's difficult in a country with so many regional differences to re-unite around one ideal," he said. "For me, sustainable development has always been that ideal."
Behind the scenes, however, people close to Mulcair suggest he was defeated by an organized campaign coming out of Alberta.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gives a speech during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Roughly a quarter of the 1,804 delegates at the convention were from that province: 347 were registered Alberta delegates and another 110 delegates were from Alberta but held different credentials, such as labour. A "yes" vote from these delegates could easily have swung Mulcair from 70 per cent to just below 50.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's office has denied any suggestion it helped organize delegates to vote against Mulcair.
"There was no whipping of the vote coming out of Rachel Notley's office, or from Mr. [Brian] Topp," Cheryl Oates, the premier's director of communications, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post Canada last week.
Topp is Notley's chief of staff and was Mulcair's 2012 rival for the leadership.
"I believe Brian [Topp] and Rachel Notley when they say they weren't organizing," said one NDP strategist who requested anonymity to speak about internal party matters.
Thomas Mulcair reacts with Brian Topp on stage during the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday, March 24, 2012. (Photo: Frank Gunn/CP)
"But he knew clearly that Nathan Rotman [former federal NDP national director and current chief of staff to Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci] and Anne [McGrath, the federal NDP's national campaign director during the last election and current Notley deputy chief of staff] wanted Tom's skin and he didn't stop it."
Rotman told HuffPost he categorically denies any suggestion he organized against Mulcair. "Too busy and focused here in Alberta," he wrote in an email.
McGrath referred comments to Oates who wrote in an email that the former campaign director had played "absolutely no role in any organizing" at the leadership convention.
"I was elected by totality of the members of the party. And effectively, in Alberta, we were delegates."
Mulcair's people, however, aren't buying it.
"It's total bullshit," the strategist said. "It's impossible we got so low, unless there was a clear organization."
Last week, Quebec MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault told HuffPost he was led to believe the vote was organized out of Alberta but, he said, "that's democracy, too."
Stunned by results
Mulcair told Tout Le Monde En Parle the result caught him completely by surprise.
"We had measured [our support] around 70 per cent," he told Lepage.
Going into the convention, Mulcair had crisscrossed the country and spent countless hours on the phone building and counting his support.
Mulcair said he didn't feel betrayed by delegates but, he agreed with the sentiment that, when the result was announced, he felt the members were ungrateful. "It was raw," he said.
Still he felt the duty to stand, like a statesman, and say that it was important was that everyone leave feeling united and that the next person to lead the party needed 100 per cent of support, the NDP leader said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks to supporters, Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 in Montreal. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/CP)
"I think you have a sense of duty, and when you have spent 10 years working without stopping for a political party, for an ideology, you don't have the right to think about yourself."
Mulcair also told the TV interviewer his greatest disappointment isn't losing the leadership review but losing the election.
He hoped Quebecers wouldn't see the NDP as a one-time flirtation but would recognize the province's values in the party's and vice versa. More than one million Quebecers voted for the NDP in 2015, and 16 MPs were elected, he noted.
"But you had 55," Lepage interrupted.
"Yes, of course, but that was the effect of a wave," Mulcair said, of the 2011 election campaign under then leader Jack Layton.
Quebec MPs who survived 'worked their riding'
Mulcair appeared to lay the blame for many Quebec losses at the feet of his incumbent MPs.
"Of course, we lost good people but the MPs who are there now, they worked their riding, they raised money, they have real riding associations," Mulcair said.
The NDP leader told Lepage it is "very unlikely" he will run again in 2019, and he is unsure if he'll serve out his whole term.
"I want to be useful and serve the public but it's a bit early for me to answer that, I'm going to give myself the time to reflect a bit on that," he said.
Unlike former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who Mulcair said only shows up once a month, "I can guarantee you that the day I leave, I leave."
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