by Tim Harper

Thomas Mulcair went behind closed doors Saturday to plead for his job.

And he did it at the epicentre of last autumnís NDP carnage, downtown Toronto, speaking to party activists in the heart of the city where his New Democrats were wiped out in last autumnís federal election.

Mulcair pivoted from a series of mea culpa meetings with party members and began an active campaign to win a leadership review next month with his address to about 100 members of the Ontario NDP provincial council at a downtown hotel.

Mulcair faces a mandatory review of his leadership at a party convention in Edmonton in a month.

With his party seemingly swallowed whole by Justin Trudeauís Liberals in recent polling data, coming off a defeat that personally stung the leader and his spouse, Catherine Pinhas, and left party loyalists deeply discouraged, Mulcair is campaigning against phantoms.

No one has stepped forward to challenge his leadership and the NDP has never dumped a leader.

But beyond discontent in the party, he is also battling apathy – the energy has been sucked out of a party that saw its hard work last summer only lead them deep into the political wilderness after leading in pre-election polls.

“You know Iím a fighter,” Mulcair said. “You know that I will always stand with you. If you keep standing with me, then I will never stop fighting.”

Mulcair worked hard to build party support in Toronto in the last election, then watched as the party lost every seat it held, with popular incumbents such as Peggy Nash, Craig Scott and Andrew Cash being washed away by the red tide.

Former party stalwart Olivia Chow could not regain her seat against Liberal Adam Vaughan.

The hopes of Andrew Thomson, Jennifer Hollett and Linda McQuaig, all billed as star candidates, crashed.

The NDP has only two elected representatives under 50 – city councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton – across three levels of government in Toronto.

The rebuild in Canadaís largest city is daunting.

“I share your deep disappointment in the election results,” Mulcair told party members.

“I know that we made mistakes that cost us a victory in October, and for that I take personal responsibility.

“We lost too many brilliant, hardworking MPs and staff – most notably here in Toronto.

“Now it is my job, and my duty to you, to learn from those mistakes and apply those lessons going forward.”

Sitting on the sidelines, he said, has “never been an option for me.”

The session was closed to the media but The Star obtained a copy of Mulcairís speech.

Party sources say more than 1,300 New Democrats have so far registered for the Edmonton convention.

That may bode well for a party trying to shake post-election apathy, but it is unclear what it means for Mulcairís future as leader.

There have been only two public calls for him to step down, one from Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo and another from Montreal riding association president Alain Charbonneau.

Thatís hardly an internal uprising.

“People were sucked dry from the campaign, and they just didn’t want to have to deal with this,” one party source said.

There is another factor: The Trudeau government enjoys deep support from those who identify as New Democrats and the Liberals have taken the progressive mantle from Mulcairís party.

That attitude adds uncertainty to the Edmonton vote.

In the wake of the October defeat, Mulcair became “defensive Tom,” according to party sources.

But in a recent letter to party members Mulcair did what many had urged him to do. He took personal blame for the campaign wreck.

Saturday, he made his case, saying the Liberals have been all talk and no action on the environment, have expanded Canada’s combat role in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) by placing more boots on the ground, are reneging on promises to kill the F-35 fighter jet option and restore home mail delivery and delivered tax cuts that did nothing for low-income Canadians.

He told them the story of his father losing his job, the family home being sold and his mother returning to work with eight children at home. He fights for those who have lost their jobs because he knows what they are going through, Mulcair said.

The battle against the phantoms will last another month, but Mulcair can take inspiration from the woman who introduced him Saturday.

After a disastrous 2014 provincial campaign, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath also faced a leadership review.

About 77 per cent of delegates voted to give her another chance.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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