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New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair and his wife have repeatedly refinanced their home west of Montreal, gradually increasing the debt on the property over a series of 11 mortgages, land records show.
Mulcair’s office will not explain why the couple have loaded more and more financing onto the West Island home they’ve lived in since the early 1980s, saying only that it’s a “private matter.”
It is unclear why Mulcair would need to refinance the modest two-garage home in Beaconsfield so many times, bumping the value of the mortgage from $58,000 to $300,000.
Before he became leader, Mulcair enjoyed a successful and well-paid career as a government lawyer and, later, a cabinet minister in the Quebec National Assembly. His wife, Catherine Pinhas, is a psychologist practicing in Montreal. Both their children are now adults with jobs — one is a police officer, the other an engineer.
Mulcair was hit with a judgment from a defamation case in 2005 after he accused former Parti Québécois minister Yves Duhaime of influence peddling. He was ordered to pay Duhaime $95,000, plus legal costs.
He left provincial politics in 2007 and ran for the NDP in a byelection later that year. Even then, he stood to collect on a pension from his years as an MNA. When he was elected that fall, he began earning an MP’s salary that was then set at $150,800.
But in January 2009, he and Pinhas financed the home for the 11th time. They took out a $300,000 mortgage with the Royal Bank of Canada and then paid off the previous $249,000 mortgage from three years earlier.
While there could be a simple explanation for the transactions, none is forthcoming from Mulcair’s office.
“Mr. Mulcair and his wife made these decisions for personal and family reasons,” said George Soule, Mulcair’s press secretary, in an email.
“They are part of their private life.”
If past opposition leaders are any example, Mulcair is likely to become the target of Conservative Party attack ads before the next election. As a New Democrat, his credibility as financial manager will likely figure into the critique.
The serial refinancing of a home does not necessarily indicate personal financial difficulties, however.
There are plenty of entirely legitimate reasons why someone would borrow against a home. He might want to draw on the accumulated equity to remodel, send a child to school, invest in the stock market, buy another home or cottage, or just get a better interest rate.
Other parties would have probably have looked into Mulcair’s property records as part of their due diligence, says former New Democrat strategist and media consultant Ian Capstick.
“Most certainly the Conservatives would know about this,” Capstick said. “Everything about your opponent that is in the public domain is fair game.”
But without more information, Capstick doubts that the mortgages would figure in an attack on the rookie party leader, as the personal finances of Canadian political figures are usually off-limits.
He notes, however, that politicians’ private lives were breached in two recent attacks — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ divorce file, which a Liberal party staffer leaked in small chunks by Twitter; and late NDP leader Jack Layton’s 1996 visit to a massage parlour, which was publicized by the Conservative-friendly Sun News Network in the final days of the last election campaign.
Before moving to the Montreal area, Mulcair and Pinhas lived in Cap Rouge, outside of Quebec City, where he worked as a lawyer for the Quebec ministry of justice. Mulcair took a job with Alliance Quebec. His wife was listed in mortgage documents as an esthetician.
They paid $64,000 for the home in 1983, with a $56,000 mortgage from the Caisse Populaire du Lac St. Louis at 10.7 per cent interest — the going rate of the day.
Every few years, new financing with the Royal Bank of Canada was registered on the property with mostly increasing values as the amount owing rolled over.
The couple obtained loans in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009.
Nearly a year after the last transaction, Mulcair filed a report with the federal ethics commissioner, saying that he taken a line of credit with his wife from the Royal Bank.
Under the MP’s Code of Conduct, material changes in a member’s assets or liabilities must be reported to the ethics commissioner within 60 days.
The value of the line of credit is not specified.
Today, Mulcair earns $157,731 annually as an MP plus a $75,516 stipend as Leader of the Official Opposition. When in Ottawa, he lives for free at the official residence, Stornoway.