A lawyer by profession, Mulcair joined the federal NDP in 1974. He was the provincial Member of the National Assembly of Quebec for the riding of Chomedey in Laval from 1994 to 2007, holding the seat for the Liberal Party of Quebec. He served as the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks from 2003 until 2006, in the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest. Elected MP for Outremont in a by-election in 2007, he was named co-Deputy Leader of the NDP shortly afterwards, and has won re-election to his seat, three times.
On May 26, 2011, he was named the New Democratic Party's Opposition House Leader and also served as the NDP's Quebec lieutenant, a post he held until named party leader. Prior to entering politics, Mulcair was a senior civil servant in the Quebec provincial government, ran a private law practice, and taught law at university level.
Mulcair was born in 24 October 1954 at The Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa. He is the son of Jeanne (née Hurtubise), a school teacher, and Harry Donnelly Mulcair, who worked in insurance. He is the second-oldest of the couple's ten children, and grew up bilingual. His father was of Irish descent and his mother was of French-Canadian, and more distant Irish, ancestry. His maternal great-great-grandfather was the 9th Premier of Quebec, Honoré Mercier, and through his mother, Mulcair is also a three times great-grandson of the 1st post-Confederation Quebec premier, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau. Mulcair was raised in the Wrightville district of Hull (now Gatineau) and in Laval, just north of Montreal. He graduated from Laval Catholic High School, and in Social Sciences from CEGEP Vanier College.
When Mulcair started law school at 18, he had to borrow money from his sister to buy textbooks. He paid his way through school by working construction jobs, tarring and graveling roofs.
Mulcair graduated from McGill University in 1977 with degrees in common law and civil law. During his penultimate year, he was elected president of the McGill Law Students Association, and sat on the council of the McGill Student Union.
He has been married to Catherine Pinhas since 1976; she is a psychologist who was born in France to a Sephardic Jewish family from Turkey. The couple have two sons. The oldest, Matt, is a sergeant in the Quebec provincial police and married to Jasmyne Côté, an elementary school teacher; they have two children, Juliette and Raphaël. Mulcair and Pinhas's second son, Greg, is an aerospace engineer who teaches physics and engineering technologies full-time at John Abbott College on the Island of Montreal.
Mulcair has dual Canadian and French citizenship, and is fluently bilingual in English and French. He calls himself "Tom" in English and "Thomas" in French.
The couple moved to Quebec City in 1978, and Mulcair was called to the Bar of Quebec in 1979. He worked in the Legislative Affairs branch in Quebec's Ministry of Justice and later in the Legal Affairs Directorate of the Superior Council of the French Language.
In 1983 Mulcair became director of legal affairs at Alliance Quebec. During that time, he played a role in amending Bill 101, the Charter of the French language, in opposition to the goals of Quebec separatists. In 1985 he began a private law practice, and was named the reviser of the statutes of Manitoba following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Reference re Manitoba Language Rights case. Mulcair also taught law courses to non-law students at Concordia University (1984), at the Saint Lawrence Campus of Champlain Regional College in Sainte-Foy, and at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. He served as commissioner of the Appeals Committee on the Language of Instruction (1986).
Mulcair was president of the Office des professions du Québec (1987 to 1993), where he introduced reforms to make disciplinary hearings more transparent and successfully led a major effort to have cases of alleged sexual abuse of patients decisively dealt with. Mulcair was also a board member of the group Conseil de la langue française, and at the time of his appointment to the Office des Professions he had been serving as president of the English speaking Catholic Council.
He first entered the National Assembly in the 1994 election, winning the riding of Chomedey as a member of the Quebec Liberal Party. Mulcair claims he ran as a Liberal because at the time, it was the only credible federalist provincial party in Quebec. In that era, Quebec was the only province where the NDP was not fully organized; its Quebec wing had seceded in 1990 to preach sovereigntism. He was re-elected in 1998, and again in 2003 when the Liberals ousted the Parti Québécois in the provincial election.
After the 1995 referendum, Mulcair was eminent in demanding an inquiry about the rejection of thousands of ballots for the 'No' side.
According to Le Devoir journalist Michel David, Mulcair is the person who coined the expression Pinocchio syndrome, which was the title of a book by André Pratte published in 1997 about lies in politics. In the book, Mulcair speaks about why he believes lying is common in politics, because, according to him, people feel free to manipulate journalists and say just about anything.
Newly elected Premier Jean Charest named Mulcair Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. At the time of his appointment to Cabinet he had been serving on several volunteer boards including The Montreal Oral School for the Deaf, Operation Enfant Soleil and the Saint-Patrick's Society. During his tenure he was a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, and drafted a bill amending the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include the right to live in a healthy environment. The bill passed in 2006.
Mulcair accused former PQ minister Yves Duhaime of influence peddling. Duhaime filed a defamation suit in 2005 and Mulcair was ordered to pay $95,000, plus legal costs. In 2010 the provincial police anti-corruption squad in Quebec investigated the then sitting Mayor of Laval, Quebec, Gilles Vaillancourt, for allegations of bribing several provincial politicians. The probe contacted Mulcair to discuss a suspected bribe offered to him in 1994. Mulcair claims he never looked in the envelope and handed it back to the Mayor.
On November 25, 2004, Mulcair launched Quebec's Sustainable Development Plan and tabled a draft bill on sustainable development. Also included was a proposed amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to create a new right, the right to live in a healthy environment that respects biodiversity, in accordance with the guidelines and standards set out in the Act. Mulcair's Sustainable Development Plan was based on the successful European model and was described as one of the most avant-garde in North America. Mulcair followed the proposal by embarking on a 21-city public consultation tour, and the Act was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly of Quebec in April 2006.
Accomplishments related to infrastructure included the completion of Autoroute 30 between Vaudreuil and Brossard, Autoroute 50 between Gatineau and Lachute, the widening of Route 175 between Stoneham and Saguenay, the widening of Route 185 from Rivière-du-Loup to the New Brunswick border and the introduction of a toll bridge which would complete Autoroute 25 between Montreal and Laval.
In 2006, Mulcair opposed a proposed condominium development in the mountain and ski resort of Mont Orford National Park. During a February 27, 2006 Cabinet shuffle, Charest removed Mulcair from his position as Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, and Parks, and offered him the lesser cabinet position of Minister of Government Services. His opposition to the Government's development plans fuelled speculation that this was a punishment, which led Mulcair to resign from cabinet rather than accept the apparent demotion. The testimony of Jean Charest, incoming Environment Minister Claude Béchard, and the owner of the company pursuing the development plan, Andre L'Esperance, all contradicted Mulcair, saying that the Orford deal had been approved by Mulcair before he left.
On February 20, 2007, he announced that he would not be a Liberal candidate in the 2007 Quebec general election.
With his exit from the provincial Liberals, Mulcair explored an entry into federal politics, having discussions with the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and the Conservative Party of Canada, During this time he also considered a job with a prominent law firm's environment section. Talks with the Conservatives failed because of differing views on the Kyoto Protocol.
Although Mulcair has identified former Quebec Liberal Party leader Claude Ryan as his political mentor, his presence in the front row during a speech in Montreal by NDP Leader Jack Layton in March 2007 led to speculation about his political future. Over the course of several months, Layton persuaded Mulcair to run for the NDP in Quebec, where the party had no seats. On April 20, 2007, Mulcair confirmed that he would run for the NDP in the next federal election.
Mulcair also became Layton's Quebec lieutenant. On June 21, 2007, in an uncontested nomination, Mulcair became the NDP's candidate in the riding of Outremont for a by-election on September 17. Mulcair won the by-election, defeating Liberal candidate Jocelyn Coulon 48% to 29%; the seat had been a Liberal stronghold since 1935 (except for the 1988 election). Jean Lapierre suggested that Mulcair was likely aided by defecting Bloc Québécois supporters (the Bloc candidate had finished second in the 2006 federal election). In addition, Coulon's writings had been condemned by B'nai Brith Canada, and the local Jewish community in Outremont makes up 10% of the riding demographics.
Mulcair contradicted many federalists by defending the Quebec NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration, which claimed that a 50 per cent plus one vote is sufficient for Quebec secession.
Mulcair was only the second NDP Member of Parliament ever elected from Quebec, following Phil Edmonston in 1990 (one previous MP, Robert Toupin of Terrebonne, had crossed the floor to the NDP in 1986). Mulcair is also only the second non-Liberal ever to win Outremont, following Progressive Conservative Jean-Pierre Hogue in 1988.
Mulcair was sworn in on October 12, 2007. Earlier, he was named co-deputy leader of the NDP along with Libby Davies. As the party's Quebec lieutenant, he worked to improve the standard of translation for the campaign's francophone party materials, with Layton's support.
On October 14, 2008, Mulcair was re-elected as the MP for Outremont, making him the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal general election. He defeated the federal Liberal candidate, Sébastien Dhavernas, by 14,348 votes to 12,005 (a margin of 6.4%).
In the 2011 federal election, despite facing a challenge from former federal justice minister Liberal Martin Cauchon, Mulcair was re-elected once more with 56.4% of the popular vote, 21,916 to 9,204. The NDP became the Official Opposition for the first time ever, mainly on the strength of winning 59 of Quebec's 75 ridings, including Mulcair's. This was a notable political event, nicknamed the "orange wave".
Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton died on August 22, 2011, following a battle with cancer, and was honoured with a state funeral. Mulcair stated that Layton's death had hit him exceptionally hard, and that while he was considering a federal NDP leadership bid, he would need several weeks to make up his mind on that decision. On October 13, 2011, at a press conference in suburban Montreal, Mulcair declared his candidacy for the federal NDP leadership, scheduled for March 23–24, 2012. He attracted the support of 60 of the 101 other federal NDP MPs, including Robert Chisholm and Romeo Saganash, the only two to have dropped out of the leadership race.
Mulcair campaigned on reinventing the party, to strengthen its presence in Quebec, and attract voters in other parts of the country. However, leadership rival Brian Topp and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent framed the race as staying true to the NDP cause under Topp, versus moving the party to the political centre and away from its principles under Thomas Mulcair.
At the leadership convention, Thomas Mulcair was elected NDP leader with 57.2% of the vote, beating challenger Brian Topp's 42.8% on the fourth ballot. Ed Broadbent went on to praise Mulcair's work as a parliamentarian.
On April 18, 2012, Mulcair moved into Stornoway, with his wife, Catherine Pinhas. On September 14, 2012, he was sworn in as a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and is entitled to the style "The Honourable" for life.
His first year as leader of the NDP was plagued with several prominent defections. Thunder Bay—Superior North MP Bruce Hyer opted to sit as an independent after being disciplined for voting in favour of the dissolution of the Canadian Firearms Registry, a position counter to one strongly championed by Mulcair. Jonquière—Alma MP Claude Patry later defected to the Bloc Québécois after disagreeing with the NDP's position to amend the Clarity Act, another policy which was strongly promoted by Mulcair. The NDP did however manage to retain their seat in Victoria following the results of a close by-election.
Mulcair declared his party's support for trade deals that including enforceable provisions on labour rights and environmental protection. Mulcair also strongly opposed plans for the creation of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, which included travelling to Washington D.C. to lobby against American approval of Keystone, and instead promoted the creation of a pipeline to carry western Canadian oil to be refined on Canada's east coast.
During the Mike Duffy expenses controversy and other expense scandals related to the Senate of Canada, the NDP reasserted its longstanding position that Senate should be abolished. Mulcair promised to seek a mandate for Senate abolition during the 2015 Canadian federal election even though the Supreme Court had ruled in 2014 that abolition would require the consent of all ten provinces.
Nevertheless, following the election of Justin Trudeau as leader of the Liberals in April 2013 the political fortunes of the NDP appeared to be on the decline, with the party falling back to its traditional third place in public opinion polls. The party would go on to lose a June 2014 by-election to the Liberals in the previously safe riding of Trinity-Spadina, which was made vacant following incumbent Olivia Chow's decision to run unsuccessfully in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election.
By May 2015 however the NDP had managed to recover much of its lost ground in public opinion polling and was finding itself in a tight three-way race with both the Liberals and Conservatives. Commentators pegged several factors, including Mulcair's opposing stance against the Conservative's Bill C-51 which the Liberals agreed to support and the surprise win for the Alberta NDP in the 2015 Alberta provincial election, as having helped revive the federal party's lagging fortunes. The party also enjoyed success in getting two of its bills through the House at this time, the first of which abolished the so-called "tampon tax" on feminine hygiene products, while the second banned the use of "pay-to-pay" fees charged by banks, although the latter was later blocked from the House floor by the Conservatives.
Despite early campaign polls which showed an NDP lead, the party lost 51 seats on election night and fell back to its former third place in Parliament. By winning 44 seats Mulcair was still able to secure the second best showing in terms of the number of seats compared to Ed Broadbent's 1988 election campaign. However, this was still a smaller percentage than Broadbent had won in 1988 due to the increased number of MPs now represented in the House of Commons.
During the election campaign, Mulcair held firm on the niqab issue; he defended religious freedom and the rights of women despite a political price.
Following the election, Mulcair was criticized by some NDP members for having run on a moderate platform and promised to balance the federal budget whilst Justin Trudeau and the Liberals promised to run budget deficits in order to pay for social spending and economic stimulus programs; a position that was viewed as allowing the Liberals to outflank the NDP on the left of the political scale.
At the NDP's party convention in April 2016, Mulcair was also criticized by Alberta delegates for what was seen as implicit support for the "Leap Manifesto", a program which was seen as opposing Alberta's oil industry and thus a political threat to Rachel Notley's NDP government in Alberta. At the convention, 52% of delegates voted for a leadership review motion to hold a leadership election within 24 months, marking the first time in Canadian federal politics that a leader was defeated in a confidence vote. Mulcair indicated that he would stay on as leader until his replacement is selected.
As NDP Finance Critic, Mulcair was critical of Stephen Harper’s 2009 budget because of “pay equity reforms which he said would remove the right of women to go to court to demand equal pay for work of equal value”. He said that “the NDP could never support a budget package that maintained that sort of measure”.
In 2014, as NDP leader, Mulcair announced that “an NDP government would launch a national public enquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women within 100 days of taking office”. Mulcair believes that “only a full public inquiry would get to the root causes of violence against aboriginal women”.
In response to the Idle No More movement, Mulcair said that the NDP would put a filter on decisions made to ensure that they respect court rulings and international obligations to First Nations in Canada. He has also pledged to call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women within 100 days of taking office, if his party is elected to government.
Mulcair called for a “nation-to-nation” relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on residential schools. He said his “number 1” priority would be to improve First Nations education.
Mulcair has been critical of Conservative public safety policy, saying cuts to food inspection and aeronautical safety have put Canadians at risk. He also “criticized previous governments for allowing rail companies to police their own safety and called on Ottawa to take a more active role in doing that job” after the Lac Mégantic tragedy in Quebec.
Mulcair supports the longstanding NDP policy to decriminalize personal use of marijuana. Mulcair has stated that he does not believe that someone should serve jail time for minimal possession of marijuana; but he has also stated that he does not support legalization.
Mulcair stated at a conference in Quebec that people with an anti-abortion stance are not welcome to run for NDP, saying, "it's not debatable, it's not negotiable, it is a woman's right to determine her own health questions and her reproductive choices."
Mulcair believes that Canada can be a "positive force for peace, justice and respect for human rights around the world".
During a policy speech in May 2015, Mulcair announced the NDP would "increase overall funding for development assistance and ensure that poverty alleviation remains at the centre of Canadian aid efforts".
Mulcair has been an opponent of Canada’s involvement in the combat mission in Iraq against ISIS.
In his time as NDP leader, Mulcair has promoted "a balanced and principled approach" to the conflict in the Middle East, criticizing "Stephen Harper and the Conservatives' one-sided approach". Mulcair has stated that he is "an ardent supporter of Israel in all instances and circumstances", while also stating that he is also an "ardent supporter of the creation of a Palestinian state". He has criticized some of the settlement policies of the Israeli government as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, while also opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel as "grossly unacceptable". On July 22, 2014, Mulcair issued a statement where he reiterated his strong support for a ceasefire and negotiated two state solution during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.
Mulcair supports lowering the small business tax rate from 11% to 9% because they create "80% of all new jobs in this country". He said an NDP government would "create an innovation tax credit to encourage manufacturers to invest in machinery, equipment and property used in research and development".
Thomas Mulcair has proposed reversing some of the corporate tax cuts advanced by the Conservative government, while keeping taxes below the U.S. combined corporate tax rate. Mulcair has stated that he will not raise personal income taxes, but has promised to cancel the Conservative government's income splitting for two-parent households.
Mulcair has promised to use additional tax revenue to pay for infrastructure, public transit, a new child care program, and a balanced budget.
Mulcair has promised to end fossil fuel subsidies under previous governments, and introduce cap-and-trade for carbon emissions. He has also promised to reverse cuts to the environmental review processes, and return to "rigorous, science-based environmental impact assessments".