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Thomas Mulcair: You Might Like Him When He's Angry

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"Anybody can become angry -- that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way -- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." ― Aristotle

Anger in many circles is looked at with disgust and disdain. Anger equals weakness, and showing anger means a person is uncontrolled and at the whims of his or her emotions. People who appear angry are ignored and brushed aside regardless of the reasons for their feelings. When angry people are seen rioting, smashing windows and looting, few take the time to understand where their anger or rage comes from. Politicians aren't immune to this judgement either; they simply are not supposed to be angry. Instead, they are expected to always be composed, buttoned down, and emotionless. We expect politicians to be like walking, talking robots in suits.

Anger gets a bad rap though. While rightly pointing out that anybody can become angry, Aristotle long ago surmised that being angry at the right person, to the right degree, at the right time and for the right purpose, while difficult, could be effectively accomplished.

It is the standard reflection on anger supplied above that has people on watch for Thomas Mulcair's supposed legendary temper. Since the start of his campaign for the leadership of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party of Canada, there has seemed to be a subtext of waiting whenever Mulcair is the topic of conversation. You would often hear panelists talk about his temper or hosts of political shows bring up the "angry Mulcair" meme.

All the waiting has been for naught though, as Thomas Mulcair has defied all emotional expectations by being calm, rational, reasonable, and even cheerfully ruddy. When Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan, with his indignant finger of Conservative righteousness, stormed across the aisle of the House of Commons to issue vulgarity laden outbursts at his NDP counterpart, Mulcair was annoyed but remained composed and restrained given the tense nature of the situation.

What would happen though if, and this is a big if, Mulcair harnessed anger and directed it in the name of hardworking and frustrated Canadians.

It is important for NDP strategists to consider this in the context of the 2015 federal election. Many commentators are looking forward to it because, as they see it, for the first time Canadians will be choosing between three distinct and different sets of political values and ideologies (whether I agree with this framing is topic for another time). It is here that the NDP can set Thomas Mulcair apart from the Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau are a study of polar opposite political styles. Harper is a black and white, economic focused, talking point obsessed control freak who looks extremely bored at the best of times. Trudeau on the other hand is a well-coiffed, platitude-spewing neophyte who tells people what they want to hear with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. If Mulcair is to build support and gain resonance, he needs to grab hold of the frustration and helplessness Canadians feel and use it as a catalyst to fuel the next federal NDP campaign.

With this in mind, the NDP needs to look to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi as a helpful study in the use of anger in politics. During the devastating floods in Calgary we were witnesses to something that was entirely genuine: an angry politician speaking to his constituents and channeling their frustrations. There wasn't a moment where any of this appeared staged or hackneyed. Nenshi used humour mixed with anger, he stated plainly how he felt, admitted that his feelings might not be politically correct, and the result was: Calgarians rallied behind him.

Consider also the Occupy Movement. Occupy showed us that if social protest movements don't harness anger effectively, they don't last. The reason Occupy couldn't be sustained was because the resonant anger wasn't used effectively. These movements are an uphill battle at the best of times. Many of us have jobs and lives and while we have concerns that might in a different circumstance lead us to pick up a placard, we simply don't have the time or the motivation. This isn't to say many weren't sympathetic to the movement. In fact, many expressed their agreement that the 1 per cent has grown wealthier while the 99 per cent has seen little progress. This sentiment alone permeates through a broad swath of the Canadian populace. Harness this sentiment and you will connect. Connect and you will engage. Engage and you will get votes.

The trick is, Mulcair has to be genuine. If at any time or for any reason he appears to be putting on an act, voters will punish him and the party for playing voters for fools. If, on the other hand, Mulcair truly does have an angry side, he should access it and channel the fears and worries of a population concerned about the present and unsure about the future. He should show that he will not rest until Canadians feel secure and supported. It's a tough balancing act but if done with a genuine touch, it could provide Mulcair and the NDP with the resonance they've been looking for.