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March 23, 2012

Opposition battles for the center

If Thomas Mulcair is elected leader of the New Democratic Party this weekend, as most observers say he will be, it will create one of the more ironic situations in modern Canadian politics — this in a country created by a seemingly contradictory Liberal-Conservative Party.

Mulcair, 57, is a former Liberal member of Quebec's National Assembly. He served as environment minister in Premier Jean Charest's administration from 2003 until he resigned in 2007 over a policy dispute. Shortly afterwards, he jumped to the left-leaning federal New Democratic Party and promptly won a by-election in a traditional Liberal riding in central Montreal.

If Mulcair becomes New Democratic Party chief and leader of the Official Opposition, replacing Jack Layton, who died of cancer suddenly last summer, he will face what you might call his political mirror image in the person of current Liberal leader Bob Rae.

As we've mentioned in this space before, Rae was once a New Democratic wunderkind on the federal level, so much so he was wooed to lead the party in Ontario. In 1990, to his great surprise victory, he beat the Liberal government of the day and helmed the first (and still only) New Democratic government in Canada's most powerful province.

There are several significant implications to these two high-level political conversions. The first is that a goodly number of the rank-and-file members of both the federal New Democratic Party and Liberals are not comfortable to see a former political enemy take over the party they cherish.

The second is that both leaders have the capacity to shift their new chosen party in a different direction, in Mulcair's case toward the center of the political spectrum. Mulcair, on the contrary, says he's not dragging the party to the center; the center is coming to him.

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