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NDP frontrunner Mulcair tackles electoral cooperation, Israel and marijuana at town hall

During a public event at W2 Woodward's, NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair addressed key issues and took criticism over his position on Israel.

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Before Mulcair arrived at the town hall, Shniad and his colleagues had been handing out documents they’d prepared to inform people about their concerns. Their handout included a statement from 2008, when Mulcair was quoted in the Canadian Jewish News describing himself as “an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances”.

“Our organization is seriously concerned about the position Mr. Mulcair has taken on this issue,” Shniad told the Observer.

“It’s a position that’s not sufficiently well-known among NDP voters and we think if more people did know, they might not be supporting him,” he said.

Though recent polls have placed Mulcair in the lead overall, the bulk of his support rests in the province of Quebec, where he has done about a quarter of his campaigning. Some commentators have noted the potentially significant influence of B.C. party members in the leadership vote, and judging by the relatively sparse attendance at the town hall, the frontrunner could still have some work to do to win over the West Coast.

Marijuana, oil sands and online spying

Despite incessant microphone feedback and a resounding echo at the venue, audience members lined up one by one to question the thick-bearded candidate (nicknamed “the Grizzly”). Working in little bits of humour, he answered most queries efficiently and with little hesitation.

One guest asked about the Tory crime bill and the NDP’s position on marijuana, prompting an enthusiastic response about the Conservatives’ “contempt” for Canadian institutions like the court system—something he says is evident in Harper’s plan to decide the severity of offences “in advance” rather than taking things on a case-by-case basis.

“On the specific subject of legalization, we do not have a policy in favour of legalization. That’s not our party policy,” he added.

Later, an older woman challenged him on this position, calling Mulcair and other politicians “hypocritical” for discriminating against pot while hosting parties and essentially endorsing alcohol use (which many consider more harmful than marijuana). The woman was then asked to refrain from "name calling".

Other questions during the evening addressed the NDP’s position on various issues including oil sands development, mainstream media concentration, and possible revisions to the Indian Act. One of the few young faces in the crowd took the mic to ask about the controversial “online spying” bill tabled last week by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Since the bill was introduced, Conservatives have faced a heavy backlash from opponents and the public, including a wildly successful Twitter campaign that targeted Toews with the hashtag #TellVicEverything.

“The excuses being put up by the Conservatives are mind-numbing,” Mulcair said about the proposed legislation.

“They say, for example, that they have to put in place the ‘infrastructure’ to be able to do this, that it’s not about simply avoiding the court order but equipping companies to do it. But it’s the same argument that could have been used in regards to telephone companies when you had to get a wiretap. Precisely because it has to do with your personal life and protecting your Charter rights, you have to get permission from the judge.”

Mulcair made note of the fact that ongoing leadership campaigns have had an impact on the NDP presence on Parliament Hill, taking key Opposition voices away from their duties in Ottawa. But before the night was over, he assured voters of a strong, united Opposition…as soon as the leadership race is complete.

“We’ll welcome back all of the incredible staff that’s been working on this campaign, and make sure to have them contribute their incredible talents to do the one thing that unites us—standing up to Stephen Harper, building a strong, structured, credible, tough Official Opposition,” said Mulcair.

“After March 24th, we’ll have permanent leadership, and we’ll be able to work together as part of the same team.”

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