Quebec loomed large over the NDP caucus retreat in St. John’s Wednesday morning.
The mood was muted as New Democrat MPs filed in one or two at a time into the Sheraton ballroom this morning, and reacted to last night’s shooting in Montreal at the election victory party for the Parti Québécois.
On Tuesday night, a shooter blasted his way into the back of the building, shooting two people and killing one, before setting a fire at the exit. Upon being tackled to the ground by police, a masked and housecoat-wearing suspect shouted about an awakening of English-speaking Quebecers.
In St. John’s Wednesday morning, New Democrat caucus chairman Peter Julian began proceedings by saying, “We deplore this violence,” and asking MPs to stand in a moment of silence.
Mulcair and many other MPs said their thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.
New Democrats are spending their time in St. John’s preparing for the fall session of the House of Commons, and Mulcair told reporters that he plans to be talking about three broad themes: employment insurance; seniors and pension issues; and advocating for more sustainable development, especially in the natural resources sector.
“My travels across Canada this summer have showed me especially in regions that have a lot of seasonal employment, there are people extremely concerned about the changes to employment insurance,” he said.
But beyond the immediate strategizing, Mulcair also said the meetings in St. John’s mark the beginning of a “two-year countdown.”
He said by the fall of 2014, he wants his party to be completely ready for the next federal election.
“As you know, in 2011 we elected quite a fresh new crop of MPs, not just in Quebec, but new MPs right across Canada, so putting down roots in those ridings has been an important exercise,” he said.
“Having done the barbecue circuit assiduously for the past several weeks that’s what’s happening across Canada.”
Ostensibly, the next federal election will be held on a fixed date in October of 2015, but Mulcair said he believes there’s a solid chance that the election date could be moved forward to the spring of 2015.
Apart from Tuesday night’s violence, Mulcair and other New Democrat MPs faced a lot of questions about the election result where the Parti Québécois won a weak minority government.
More than half the NDP’s national caucus is drawn from ridings in Quebec.
Newfoundland MP Ryan Cleary said that he was watching the results come in Tuesday night along with Quebec MPs, and everybody had a different take on what the vote meant.
“I was here last night when the results came in and what I found fascinating was hearing the reaction of the different Quebec MPs to the results. I got different reactions from every MP,” he said. “In terms of how I react to the results? I don’t know. It’s still filtering down.”
Mulcair said that the vote should be understood mostly as a normal turnover in politics, and not so much a sign of resurgent separatist sentiment in Quebec.
“I’ve spent my career working in Quebec City both as a senior public administrator and as an elected official. There are cycles in Quebec electoral life,” he said.
Mulcair warned against paying “lip service to the differences” in Quebec culture, but he also said that he believes that the NDP can be a strong voice for federalism in the province.
“My job as leader of a national party is to work on issues in the interest of all Canadians, including Quebecers,” he said.
“For the first time since the 1980s there is a party that is a pan-Canadian federalist party — the NDP — that won a majority of seats in the Quebec and that’s a distinct advantage in all of these discussions.”