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What's Bigger: Mulcair's Mansion, his Ego, or Alberta Oilsands?

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NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, has had a couple of red-letter weeks.

He moved into the mansion called Stornaway for opposition leaders, with its big expense account and royal trappings.

He got tons of attention when he recycled the "Dutch disease" phrase to blame the booming West for the beleaguered East.

Then he toured the oil sands, Canada's economic cornerstone, by helicopter and described them as big or "awe-inspiring."

These recent events certainly serve to reveal the character of the Ottawa's latest actor who is in a major supporting role. Here's my analysis of Mulcair based on his recent milestones:

On living in a mansion
Mulcair is the latest incarnation of what the British dubbed the "champagne socialist." Stornaway is another symbol of inherited privilege, like the monarchy, where status and perquisites are given away to the duly "crowned."

Mulcair, if consistent to his ideology, should have declined the grand housing perk and diverted the excessive cost of his upkeep to some worthy cause.

He opted, instead, to live like royalty even though he backed statements by fellow NDPer Pat Martin that the cost of royal visits alone was sufficient to abolish the Crown as head of state. He also signed a petition to have the Queen's portrait removed from the foreign affairs building a few months ago.
(To square the circle, the NDP leader cannot criticize the "cake" and eat it too. But he is.)

On Dutch Disease
Mulcair is a simple-minded ideologue.

The Dutch disease was named after the rise of the guilder in the Netherlands, due to oil and gas exports, began to reduce the competitiveness of the country's other exporters and tourism sectors. The same phenomenon applies in Canada, Australia and others.

Mulcair has seized on this to explain a world he doesn't understand. He blames Canada's booming oil exports for the moribund economies in Eastern Canada. That's only a sliver of the problem and to say otherwise is nation-busting. This is why the western premiers are furious at him as well as at Ontario and Quebec's political elites too.

The loss of jobs is due to the economic slowdown since 2008, competition from low labor jurisdictions and lousy productivity levels, notably in Canada where they are 25 per cent lower than the U.S.

And, just to set the record straight, countries without commodities have had to import them at dramatically higher prices since 2003 and, despite a drop in their currencies, they suffer from widespread unemployment and no growth.

What's also missing from Mulcair's narrative is that Canada's self-sufficiency and surpluses in oil and commodities have saved the country from far worse fates. Our booming commodity and energy exports have dramatically buoyed domestic economic activity as the export proceeds and inputs have remained inside Canada's borders.
(The leader of the Official Opposition should not ask taxpayers to pay for his on-the-job training.)

On touring the oil sands for the first time

Mulcair does not do his homework. He drubbed the oil sands, but never visited the area. He has never conversed with global experts, CEOs, investors, workers or many westerners. After one helicopter tour, he said, golly, he had no idea of the scale of the place. This means he has either a) pontificated before he listens and observes or b) he targets selectively for cynical political reasons.

This brings up the issue of Canada's other energy megaproject, the James Bay Project. This has been a decades-old scheme of flooding a forested area full of wildlife the size of the state of New York to earn a few billions of dollars in energy exports a year from the Americans. This is on a scale only matched by the Three Gorges in China, and while many Canadians believe it's an achievement, as I do, he cannot support this if he disdains the oil sands.

Has he seen what's gone on there? Has he calculated the environmental costs of such deforestation? Mulcair thinks the oil sands are big. This is gargantuan.

(The NDP leader bites the hands that feed the country. But only the western ones.)

Clearly, the guy is way over his head and this makes him a national problem. Instead of a person who raises alternatives through thoughtful, nuanced debate on important issues, there is now a socialist who lives in a parallel universe. There is now Mulcair who lives in the lap of the luxury he rails against, offers ruinous prescriptions that attract headlines, and does not do his homework.

On the other hand, Mulcair is good news for the Tories, but Canada faces serious choices and needs intelligent conversation. This is not a country that exactly has the next century at its feet.
Besides, the decent government now in place needs an appropriate and smart opposition as a check and balance.

But Thomas Mulcair is neither appropriate nor smart. He is very Mul-careless.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Post.