Welcome to New Torytown


It is, perhaps, a measure of just how conservative Canadians have become over the past decade that Thomas Mulcair is still considered, in many quarters, a socialist threat to all that is worthy.

In fact, there’s almost nothing leftish or wobbly in this leader of the federal New Democrats; if anything, he represents an almost “Clintonian-Blairish” shift to the centre of the political spectrum. And it seems to be working out fine for him.

Writing in iPolitics earlier this month, EKOS Polling chairman and founder, Frank Graves, noted, “Just as it looked like we were setting into a three-way tie, the NDP appears to be opening up some daylight between itself and the Conservatives ­– who are still stuck at sub-30 – and the listless Liberals, still drifting downward in a significant erosion of their support. New Democrats should be jubilant. Liberals should be very concerned. But the worst news here may be for the Conservatives.”

\The pollster added: “NDP and Liberal fortunes are inextricably connected; they tap a shared pool of promiscuous progressive voters who are now looking more favourably at the NDP for a variety of reasons – the election result in Alberta, dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau’s qualified support for C-51, and a rising sense that the New Democrats are a plausible option to dislodge the current government.”

What’s more, Graves observes, “We do know that those outside of the diminished Conservative base are increasingly receptive to some form of government arrangement between the progressive parties.”

That’s probably because Mr. Mulcair is sounding more and more conservatively avuncular,and less and less radically agitated, these days. Consider his comments at a recent gathering of the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.

“As our country’s financial capital – hosting 40 per cent of corporate headquarters in Canada – Toronto’s business community has its finger on the pulse of the entire Canadian economy,” he began. And, looking at the performance of our economy over the past number of months, there is reason for concern.

“The first quarter in particular has some alarming news. Gross Domestic Product took the deepest plunge in nearly six years ­– down by 0.6 per cent. Business investment – down. Exports – for the second quarter in a row – down.

Household spending – the lowest growth in nearly three years.

“And BMO’s overall revised projection for 2015 sees the slowest growth for Canada’s economy, outside of recession, in the past thirty years. But as worrisome as these first quarter trends are, they don’t tell the whole story.

They don’t give us a sense of what’s happening to Canada’s middle class – the best measure of a well-functioning and diversified economy.”

Then came what has become the NDP’s rallying cry in recent weeks: “In 2015, middle class families are working harder, but falling further and further behind. Over the last 35 years, while our GDP has grown 147 per cent, income for the typical Canadian family has actually shrunk by 7 per cent.

And household debt is up – way up ­– hitting a record 163 per cent of disposable income. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, calls that ‘a significant risk to Canada’s financial stability’.”

Suddenly, Mr. Mulcair is sounding like a kinder, gentler version of Stephen Harper. The former’s focus on the middle class may be apocryphal (after all, who really believes that socio-economic rhetoric ever produces durable results), but it is politically cunning. He is, in effect, eating the prime minister’s lunch; Mr. Harper’s emphasis on “hard-working families” seems almost clunky by comparison.

Mr. Mulcair may be Canada’s first federal Progressive Conservative in more than a decade.

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