IN THE NEWS ~ Federal NDP to gather in Saskatchewan, Mulcair to meet with Wall

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaks to reporters at his office in Montreal, Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Photograph by: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS

JOE COUTURE, The Star Phoenix with CP files.

REGINA - National NDP caucus chair Peter Julian says Saskatchewan was "very deliberately" chosen for a gathering of the federal party's members next week.

The federal Official Opposition will discuss strategy in Saskatoon next week after Leader Thomas Mulcair meets with Premier Brad Wall in Regina on Monday. Then, the MPs will be "fanning out" across the province, Julian said in an interview Friday.

"As you know, we've got very deep roots in Saskatchewan and the entire party is committed to rebuilding those roots ... We've come very close with some very good candidates in the past few elections," Julian continued.

Riding boundaries redrawn in for the 2015 election could also benefit the federal NDP, the caucus chair added.

"There will be a number of ridings that become even stronger as far as NDP representation goes. We'll be targeting at least a half a dozen ridings in Saskatchewan. The reality is forming government in 2015 comes in part through Saskatchewan," Julian said.

"There's a real commitment right across our 100-strong Official Opposition caucus that we want Saskatchewan to be effectively represented in the House of Commons. We don't think that's the case right now and what we want to do is be listening to people's concerns and do everything we can to speak to their concerns in the House of Commons.

"In Saskatchewan, certainly the level of interest we're getting is very high ... People are excited by Thomas Mulcair's leadership and the experience that he brings and the depth that he brings," Julian added. "I think 2015 will be the watershed for representation in Saskatchewan."

Wall and Mulcair are to meet Monday morning. Although the two leaders have butted heads over oilsands and the economy, they have become unlikely allies in a push for Senate abolition.

On Monday, they are expected to talk about the state of the Canadian economy, the Senate, health care and the federal skills training program.

The two leaders have both said the Senate - which has been rocked by an expense scandal - should be scrapped.

Mulcair and Wall starting trading barbs in May 2012 when Mulcair said the booming oil sector was hurting other parts of the economy by driving up the dollar and earlier this year, Wall accused Mulcair of betraying Canadian interests when the NDP leader criticized Ottawa's environmental record and the Keystone XL pipeline while speaking in Washington, D.C.

Julian said he expects discussions among NDP MPs at the strategy session to focus on topics including ethics and spending; food, rail and pipeline safety issues; and, a "much more balanced approach on the economy" that "gets us away from boom and bust."

He referenced concerns about lost manufacturing jobs, a topic that was part of the divide between Mulcair and Wall last year as the federal leader's "Dutch disease" comments drew negative attention from Saskatchewan's premier.

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