The ghost of Jack Layton is about to hover again over the shoulder of Tom Mulcair.
This time, it is conjured in the form of a book, Building the Orange Wave, an inside account of Layton's rise from fourth party leader to Opposition leader written by Brad Lavigne, a man who spent a decade alongside Layton and was his campaign manager in the breakthrough 2011 campaign.
Lavigne's book tells us that Olivia Chow, who is contemplating a run for mayor of Toronto next year, would have taken that plunge 11 years ago had her spouse, Layton, decided against a run for the NDP leadership.
He tells us of the prescient prediction of Layton's 2011 Quebec breakthrough by former prime minister Brian Mulroney and how Layton reached out to Mulroney after the election to seek advice on caucus discipline from the man who had made his father Conservative caucus chair. Mulcair, in fact, had once interviewed for a job as the elder Layton's chief of staff.
And there is Lavigne's profanity-laced tirade aimed at Kory Teneycke of Sun TV, in which he vowed to "spend my life's work amassing the resources to rain holy hell on your f---ing heads," after Lavigne was tipped that the network and its print arm was poised to go with a quickly discredited, election eve story about Layton's visit to a massage parlour.
But we are reminded in this ongoing canonization of Layton that he never had to campaign to be prime minister and Lavigne recounts the debate within the party - including the caucus - when Layton decided in 2008 to campaign with the message that he, the leader of the fourth party, was running to be prime minister.
Lavigne took the message to a pre-taped political talk show and reported back: "Well, they didn't laugh.''
Only once, arguably, in 1987 when Ed Broadbent was leading the polls in what turned out to be the largest vote-parking exercise in Canadian history, had an NDP government federally even been the subject of such whispers. Mulcair has had to style himself as a prime minister-in-waiting from the moment he won the job and it is an open question as to how voters would view Layton today, two years into opposition, styling himself as the next occupant of 24 Sussex Drive.
There are many things we'll never know, but every time a member of Layton's former inner circle reminds us of his 10-year climb to opposition, they invite such speculation.
We will never know how Layton would have dealt with the Justin Trudeau threat, having campaigned against the inferior leadership of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff in his final campaigns.
But New Democrats find themselves wondering at times; wondering whether Layton might have been more effective in blunting the third party threat with consistent, upbeat messaging.
Mulcair is prone to jamming too many facts into what should be a simple answer, racing away like he is double parked and threatening to morph into Ignatieff himself with his intellectual wanderings.
The Lavigne book reminds us how the Layton team used levity to get attention. Mulcair's opposition is humourless.
Lavigne leaked a fake story about Layton shaving off his moustache to get front-page treatment in an Ottawa newspaper. Mulcair doesn't have the luxury of facilitating debate about his beard.
We won't ever know how Layton would have dealt with the Adrian Dix pratfall on the West Coast (a campaign run by Lavigne and former Layton staffers), a potential defeat in Nova Scotia, or the rise of the Parti Quebecois, the party's position on the Clarity Act, discipline in his Quebec caucus or Pauline Marois' Charter of Values.
We can surmise that Layton would have been an asset to Linda McQuaig in Toronto Centre, but Mulcair may yet prove to be an asset there.
What the Lavigne book does is remind us of the challenges thrown at Mulcair since he assumed the job, challenges that Layton would have faced had he had the chance to be Opposition leader.
Lavigne says he has not produced a bookend and he plots a way forward for his party.
"Unless the NDP entrenches our gains,'' he writes "we risk falling as quickly as we rose.''
Never again can a federal NDP sneak up on the other parties and never again can it campaign as the outsider that would fix a broken Ottawa.
And as Mulcair and all those around him know, the last step is the toughest.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. email@example.com Twitter:@nutgraf1