The problem with partisan punches

The NDP has a seemingly fluid stance on party leaders with dual citizenship

The kerfuffle over Thomas Mulcair’s dual citizenship illustrates one the biggest problems with our political discourse today: too much time taking cheap shots, not enough time focusing on the problems facing Canadians. Or: too much time taking cheap shots, not enough time tending to your own backyard. I’m a partisan hack, so either will do.

You’ll never hear me say that partisan politics is bad. It’s good for people to be reminded of the things that politicians do and say. We should be electing people who represent the best of us, so it’s important that we hold our politicians to a certain standard. Plus, partisan politics has often paid my bills. By all means, keep on keeping on.

Hypocrisy, though, is a different story. If you’re going to make a fuss about something, the least you can do is make sure you’re not guilty of the same transgressions, or be adequately prepared to deal with the fall-out when the same accusations are hurled back.

Opposition research – when done well – provides some juicy pieces of information to knock your opponent off message. While they’re trying to scramble back, you get the opportunity to fill the void with your own message. In an ideal world, that message would be something meaningful, but the structure of our news cycle usually means partisans are reinforcing the spin that got them the opening to speak in the first place.

Case in point: in 2008, then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion was dogged throughout the election campaign after it was revealed he holds dual French and Canadian citizenships. When asked about this, then-NDP Leader Jack Layton said: “I would prefer that a leader of a party hold only Canadian citizenship, because one represents many Canadians, and for me that means that it’s better to remain the citizen of one country.”

Journalists asked other NDP MPs—Tony Martin, quote machine Pat Martin, and Peter Stoffer—what they thought about Dion’s dual citizenship, and all three toed the party line. It should also be noted that there was a distinction made between “leader” and “deputy leader,” by Mr. Layton, who could not have been ignorant of the fact that Mr. Mulcair—the NDP’s co-deputy leader at the time—did in fact also hold dual citizenship.

What will folks say now, when we’re all again reminded that what goes around comes around? Nobody can find any NDP MPs willing to agree with what Mr. Layton said. Rest assured that should Mr. Mulcair be elected NDP leader, the Conservatives will have a field day with the issue of his dual citizenship. Members of the NDP have watched TV. They saw what was said about Michael Ignatieff for living outside Canada, and what was said about his Hungarian-born wife, Zsuzsanna, for not yet having Canadian citizenship. For what it’s worth, the NDP is smart enough to realize that any statements by their MPs criticizing Mr. Mulcair will also play into these Conservative attacks.

I’m hopeful that having dealt with this kind of mudslinging at their own leader, the Liberals will continue to say they have no problem with party leaders holding dual citizenship. I’ll refrain from guessing as to whether or not Canadians agree with that sentiment, but likely this is an issue that will only echo inside the Ottawa bubble.  Most people have their own lives to worry about.