Thomas Mulcair styles himself a fighter

The NDP leader does not want to be roadkill

Sports analogies in politics are fraught with peril. Heading into the NDP’s summer caucus meeting, Thomas Mulcair went with boxing to describe the campaign for 2015.

“This is a 15-round match that we are preparing for. It’s not a three-round fight,” Mr. Mulcair said.

The 15-round fight actually hasn’t been common since the 1980s. After the death of Duk Koo Kim, a sport that depends entirely on doing harm to another man’s body decided that having two men punch each other for more than 12 intervals of three minutes was too much.

Possibly Mr. Mulcair is not much of a boxing fan and he didn’t intend to invoke the parameters of old school brawling, but I’ll use this as a convenient segue to one of the interesting parts of Mr. Mulcair’s public image. His opponents like to mock him as “Angry Tom,” but here he is on himself in an interview last week with the Star.

“We’ve been standing up to Stephen Harper and offering him an opposition he has never had before. Without putting too fine a point on it, I’m no Stéphane Dion or Michael Ignatieff and people know that. So does Stephen Harper. He’s been getting the fight of his life in the House,” he said.

He made a similar assessment in his interview with the Huffington Post.

“I don’t shy away from a good tough debate, at all. It’s always been part and parcel of my understanding of what we have to do in politics, because otherwise you end up like Stéphane Dion or Michael Ignatieff. You are just going to be roadkill.”

He predicts an “epic battle” in 2015. And in the Globe’s story, an NDP strategist suggests “tough” as one of the words voters would associate with Mr. Mulcair.

The risk might be that voters will hear Mr. Mulcair as Andrew Coyne does.

There is an off-key quality to his performance — a tinniness of tone, a boastful insecurity, a sense of tightly wound resentment — of a kind the public is very good at detecting. 

So, perhaps like Mr. Harper before him, Mr. Mulcair has to figure out how to convey himself. So long as this toughness reinforces his team’s preferred adjectives—”Leadership” and “Experience”—he might be fine. When the toughness seems to undermine those adjectives, less so. But this does leave non-Conservative voters with a distinct choice of personalities between Mr. Mulcair and the sweetness and light of Mr. Trudeau.