August 21, 2015

Strength of Conviction by Tom Mulcair ~ a book review

Tom Mulcair's autobiography is an easy read. At less than 200 pages, it's a quick read; I read it over the course of one day. It's certainly timely, but what does it tell us about the next prime minister?

Well, it suggests, with conviction and example, that when it comes to determination and intellect, Stephen Harper has finally met his match.

For another, what used to be Thomas Mulcair, is now clearly and simply; Tom Mulcair. After reading the book, it suits him even more.

And Mr Mulcair's story is inspiring. As the second of 10 children in an Irish-Catholic Quebec family, he grew up in a home where everyone was loved, and each knew the value of an education. "My parents adored each other," he writes. "My family was rough-and-tumble, with children all over the place and people who made four sandwiches out of one chicken wing, and who said, 'I love you,' all day."

Mulcair worked through high school and then university. At 19 he started law school and had to borrow money from his sister to buy his textbooks. He paid his way by working construction, tarring roofs in the hot, humid summers of Montreal. At that young age, two other things happened that would change his life: he joined the NDP, a strange choice in that the party was almost non-existent in Quebec. And he met Catherine Pinhas. While it was love at first sight, it was a strange combination: she was a secular, upper-class Jewish girl from France, of a family that survived the Holocaust, and he was a working-class anglo-Irish-Catholic from Quebec. They married three years later, when they were both 22. They are still together and much in love. 

By his 30s, Mulcair was someone to watch in Quebec, and the book makes that clear. He was a hard working bureaucrat running a provincial body charged with regulating all the medical, legal and technical professions. He made his mark when he went after doctors who sexually abused their patients. In 1994 he was recruited to run for Quebec Liberals and quickly became environment minister, and in that arena he made his mark again with some of the toughest legislation in the country. He resigned after the premier, Jean Charest, made it clear that Mulcair was far too unfriendly towards developers.

Unfortunately, the book provides less light on what happened in the brief years after Jack Layton recruited Mulcair to run in 2007. While the key points are mentioned, I can't help but feel there must be much more to tell, about the amazing rise of the NDP in Quebec, the tragic death of Mr Layton and the abounding doubts that the party could stay together and grow.

People were sceptical about Mulcair and the NDP, yet he proved them wrong. He became the most effective leader of the Opposition in decades, and the party's fortunes improved dramatically too.

Still, I wonder. How does Mr Mulcair feel about his role in the transformation of politics in Quebec and Canada? How does he feel about himself in mid-life? Does he have any soul-searching moments? Any fears and doubts? If he does, he doesn't tell us in this book.

We do learn about two important mentors in his life. The first is Father Alan Cox, a radical young priest who taught at Mulcair's school and told the students again and again that they had to make a difference in this world. The second was the intellectual, and premier, Claude Ryan, who, nearing death, told him, "Monsieur Mulcair, we have to remember why we’re elected. It's to help people."

One thing is very clear from reading this book: Tom Mulcair is a uniter, not a divider. In that, he is the opposite to the current resident of 24 Sussex. And that's a wonderful thing indeed.

Two previous Murray Chronicles on Tom Mulcair: from March of this year and one of his first, big rallies in MetroVancouver: Tom Mulcair in Vancouver and from February of 2014 and a small gathering at Kwantlen University in Richmond: Tom Muclair at KPU Richmond

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

Photo of  Pinhas and Mulcair from Maclean's. 
Photo of Layton and Mulcair from the CBC.
Book cover by the publisher: Dundurn Press.


  1. Save your money. You can easily flash through this one in the book store. Tom's Canada is clearly rooted in the east. I found it disturbing.

  2. I don't agree. I think it offers some insight into the man who will probably be the next PM.


Thanks for your comments!