OTTAWA — The Syrian refugee crisis has struck a personal note with Catherine Pinhas Mulcair.
Mulcair, the daughter of Turkish Holocaust survivors whose ancestors were Sephardic Jews thrown out of Spain during the 15th century, described being moved by the ongoing flood of people in search of a better life in Europe.
“It does bring emotions,” the wife of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said in a recent phone interview. “The emotions are of another dimension, because my family went through a lot and couldn’t even talk about it, so it was always there.”
Canadians in general should feel a similar connection to the plight of refugees fleeing the conflict in the Middle East and feel compelled to help, she added.
“Everybody has to be aware of what is happening and we cannot turn our backs on those people,” she said.
“It should be the same for everybody. I would be very sad to believe that you can stay cold when you see people leaving everything behind to save their lives and their children’s lives, you can’t be cold and turn your back.”
Though she’s not one to seek out the spotlight, Catherine Mulcair has been a central figure in her husband’s election campaign.
Like any politician, the leader is supported by an inner circle — his includes longtime NDP counsel Karl Belanger, his executive assistant and spokesman George Smith and chief of staff Alain Gaul. But Catherine remains his main confidante and adviser.
“If he’s exhausted, I will see it right away,” she said.
“We, just by a glance, know what the other one is thinking … sometimes if one has a little bit less energy, the other one will be there.”
Catherine said she did not hesitate to accompany her husband on the road, even though it meant putting her Montreal-based psychology practice on hold for 11 weeks.
“We’ve always stuck together,” she said. “It was obvious that … I was going to be with him.”
Catherine, an outgoing person by nature, said she gets energy from the people she meets. Her outgoing nature is often apparent at NDP events, where she strikes up one-on-one conversations with party faithful. In fact, she sometimes gets so engaged in the crowds that Mulcair must remind her when it’s time to leave.
“Cherie,” he will say in French, as a gentle cue to go.
Catherine admits the extended 78-day campaign has taken a lot of energy, but says she is encouraged by the support for her husband.
“He’s real,” she said. “He will never bend in front of anybody. He will be straight and will always do the best for people.”
Being on the campaign — which was originally about keeping her husband company — has been an eye-opening experience that has turned into something more profound, she added.
“At first, it was to be able to accompany Tom,” she said. “Then it became really something that touched me … I think it is an experience that makes me richer and gives me a chance to even appreciate more what Tom is doing.”
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Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press