The defection of NDP MP Glenn Thibeault to the Ontario Liberals is raising some questions about Thomas Mulcair's prospects in a federal election that's now less than 10 months away.
And an interview Thibeault gave to CBC's Power & Politics Tuesday likely won't dissuade those convinced the MP now wants to run in a provincial byelection in Sudbury because things don't look bright for the federal NDP.
Thibeault, a former caucus chair and critic for consumer affairs, small business and tourism, backed Mulcair for NDP leader in 2012. And when Thibeault was nominated in September to run again federally, Mulcair was by his side.
However, the Toronto Star reported this week that relations between the two have been strained for months.
Thibeault told host CBC Evan Solomon that he hasn't been "seeing eye-to-eye" on a lot of things happening in the federal NDP, but wouldn't share specifics because of caucus confidentiality.
He did make reference to Mulcair's recent comments about reviving the long-gun registry, a divisive issue for many MPs in northern and rural communities.
"Some might say that you're looking ahead and realizing maybe the NDP's electoral fortunes don't look good on a federal level. You didn't go provincially for the NDP but you may hop into cabinet with Kathleen Wynne," Solomon said. "Was it about power expediency or was it about a sense that the NDP wasn't on a path that you thought would end up in power?"
Thibeault denied he was thinking about cabinet, saying he needs to win the byelection first. He did not, however, share thoughts on the electoral prospects of the federal NDP.
That's when Solomon asked a particularly interesting question about the 2015 election.
"The Ontario Liberals will support the federal Liberals in the next election, as you know. Kathleen Wynne is open about her support for Justin Trudeau," Solomon said. "Would you now want to see Justin Trudeau win the next election instead of Tom Mulcair?"
"Interesting question," Thibeault replied. "That's something that we’ll have to see unfold but right now I’m just an Ontario Liberal."
When Solomon told him he better get used to that question, Thibeault joked that he had only been an Ontario Liberal for about eight hours.
"It seems fair that you would support Justin Trudeau versus Tom Mulcair," Solomon said. "Is that fair to say now?"
"We’ll have to look at all the things they're proposing. Right now I'm focusing on making sure I'm looking at the Ontario Liberal piece and I've got lots to learn," Thibeault deflected.
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When the news of Thibeault's defection first broke, many suggested the pay cut he will take to move to provincial politics means he isn't confident New Democrats will do well in 2015. Presently, the MP earns $163,700, while Ontario MPPs bring home $116,500.
However, if Thibeault were to join Wynne's cabinet, he'd earn $165,850. And, since Thibeault served six years in Ottawa, he is already eligible for the MP pension plan.
On Tuesday, two senior NDP MPs suggested the move does not reflect poorly on the federal party, which polls suggest is stuck in third place.
NDP caucus chair Irene Mathyssen told CBC News that while the party was "saddened and disappointed" to see Thibeault go, she has "great faith and hope" that New Democrats can form government in 2015.
Likewise, veteran MP Peter Stoffer told The National Post the party is ready to compete.
"I still consider it will be a tight three-way race but we have our work cut out and will have to recruit good candidates and raise some money," Stoffer told columnist John Ivison.
Provincial New Democrats appear to have taken the news harder, at least publicly.
Gilles Bisson, a Timmins-James Bay MPP who received Thibeault's endorsement when he ran for Ontario NDP leader in 2009, slammed the MP as a "turncoat" just focused on his own career.
Bisson released a statement touching on allegations that the former Liberal candidate in Sudbury was offered an appointment to stand down this time. Wynne denies any such offers were made but the Ontario NDP has called on Elections Ontario to investigate, while Progressive Conservatives are urging the Ontario Provincial Police to launch a probe.
"The Liberal nomination was already tainted by allegations of bribery, and now it's further tainted by the fact that Glenn Thibeault put his career ahead of the people of Sudbury," Bisson said in a statement. "To put it bluntly, this is cynical politicking."
Bisson, the Ontario NDP House leader, later called on Elections Ontario to seize Liberal hard drives and preserve emails between Liberals and Thibeault.
Thibeault is the sixth MP to quit the NDP since the 2011 federal election that saw a record number of New Democrats earn a place on Parliament Hill.
Quebec MP Lise St-Denis joined the Liberals a few months before Mulcair took over as NDP leader in 2012. Since then, Ontario MP Bruce Hyer became an independent and later joined the Green Party, Quebec MP Claude Patry crossed the floor to the Bloc Quebecois, Quebec MP Sana Hassainia became an independent and Quebec MP Jean Francois Larose help start the new Forces et Démocratie.