Need to know: Canada’s elite pay respects to Paul Desmarais

Meanwhile, Tom Mulcair stuck around in the House of Commons
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives with his wife, Laureen, at a memorial service for Paul Desmarais, Tuesday, December 3, 2013 in Montreal. Desmarais, founder and chairman of Power Corporation, died on October 8, 2013 at the age of 86. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Paul Chiasson/CP

Stephen Harper rarely shows up for Question Period on Mondays. But often, he’ll find time for the House of Commons on Tuesdays. Yesterday, as the clock ticked closer to 2:15 p.m., those in observance noted that the PM’s seat was empty. So was that of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader. Among the major leaders, only the NDP’s Tom Mulcair graced the Commons with his presence. Hmm.

In short order, it came to light that Harper and Trudeau were, in fact, at a memorial service at the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, where those assembled paid their respects to the late businessman, Paul Desmarais, Sr. The crowd was a smorgasbord of business and political elite: four prime ministers, five Quebec premiers, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, former governor general Michaëlle Jean, and Conrad Black, to name a few. Powerful federalists and powerful sovereigntists alike filled the pews.

But not Mulcair. The NDP leader stuck to his questions in the Commons, choosing prosecutorial opposition over a tribute to a legendary businessman in his home province. The choice was important, even if it went mostly unnoticed. Rubbing shoulders with the power set, even in the context of a memorial, isn’t comfortable territory for a social democrat. And the NDP leader’s performance in the House has received plenty of praise. His party’s falling behind in polls, but he clearly sees merit to his daily fight in the Commons.

If there’s a long game here, it’s a very long game. Harper’s address to mourners in Montreal received wide coverage, and Trudeau’s presence in Montreal was summarily noted. Nobody outside of Ottawa, save for those precious few who stream parliamentary proceedings online, noticed Mulcair’s performance in the House. He must hope that will, eventually, gradually, change.


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