Meet Thomas Mulcair, or "Tom" as he'd like you to call him. Leader of the federal NDP, the Official Opposition to Stephen Harper's Conservative government. This is the first in what I hope to be three of these coffees where I'm inviting the leaders of the front-running parties in the upcoming October election to meet me for coffee so I can introduce you to them. I don't imagine it'll be difficult to get Justin Trudeau to sit down with me after this fairly-softball interview I'm about to share but Harper will truly be a coup if our coffee meeting happens; he isn't exactly known for being widely available for media interviews. We'll see.
In these features I've traditionally tried to just meet up and chat and not have my interactions be like interviews, but with these three I'm walking in with a few questions I've written down as I don't wish it to be as casual an introduction as I usually bring you. I won't be favouring one candidate more than another and in fact I'm not even sure who I'm voting for yet, so all you partisans out there please step away from the Twitter and Facebook. Also, it's important to note that I won't be caffeinating with the leaders of the Green Party, Bloc Québécois or Forces et Démocratie. I'm only meeting with those who have a strong probability of becoming the prime minister after this current election. If you're a diehard supporter of one of the smaller parties please respect that I'm doing this at all and am raising the issue of exercising democracy on a blog that seldom wades into politics.
Tom and I met at Finch's Tea & Coffee House on Pender as per the recommendation of his people, and a more fitting coffee shop there may not be. Like the NDP, Finch's is all about creating a people-friendly environment where folks can enjoy Vegetarian Gypsy Salami Baguettes together. From the outside the building practically looks like it's leaning to the left and, with it's aged tables and mismatched chairs, like nearby Macleod's Books, it's a refuge from the hard concrete of downtown.
Mr Mulcair was in town for a rally his party was doing on affordability and a $15/day childcare plan they've got, and he told me about another (timely) plan they have to become a stable partner for the provinces when it comes to transit. The idea is that they'll take $420m/year (1 cent from the federal gas tax) and distribute it to the provinces and territories for transit projects. The feds currently chip in but he feels there's no national strategy where there's reliable, predictable amounts of money being dedicated to each province.
I asked him "Why 'No' on legalization?", which is an issue I'm keenly interested in, and he told me that they just don't plan to jump into things, taking a more cautious approach than the Liberals' promise to legalize right away. He says they'll take time to look at the evidence coming out of the American states that have legalized and figure out what might work best for Canada. So it's not exactly the 'No' that I had assumed, and I was surprised to learn that he plans to decriminalize marijuana right away so that people wouldn't ever get a criminal record for it. Here's how the exchange went after he told me what they plan to do should they form a majority government:
Bob: So decriminalization happens overnight?
Tom: That’s something you can do overnight.
Bob: Is that something you will do overnight?
Tom: That’s something we’ll do within the first 100 days of forming government.
The conversation then veered into fishing (as it tends to with me) after I brought up Chef Ned Bell's rallying for a National Sustainable Seafood Day which was tabled in the House of Commons, and that I hope to see become a reality (learn about it HERE). Another surprise came when he proclaimed "I’m a fisherman and an outdoorsman, too" after I told him why I'm passionate about this issue. Every year he visits Quebec's Anticosti Island where he and his family fish for Atlantic Salmon and Speckled Trout, and it sounds pretty magical.
As quickly as things swerved into personal stories of fishing they went back on track with my asking him if he could tell me, in one minute, why British Columbians should vote NDP this October. I'll be ending each of these Coffees with the leaders with this question. Here's Tom's answer:
"Because for so many years there’s been an increase in inequality in our society. We've been stuck with the same parties since 1867 and right now under Stephen Harper things are getting worse for the middle class, and we’re actually going to change things. When I talk about childcare it’s something I’m going to get done. I’ve done it. I was there in Quebec City when we did it. When we talk about transit we’re going to do it, we’re going to work with the provinces and be a reliable partner. When we talk about housing we’re going to do it. So we’re not just going to flash left and turn right, we’re actually going to be that party that’s going to be there for people before, during and after the election, and they can hold us to it. And you can hold us to it by writing it down."
Stay tuned for 425 more Coffees! Check out the caffeinated archive HERE.