Published | PubliÃ©: 2015-01-15
Received | ReÃ§u: 2015-01-15 11:44 AM
Elizabeth Thompson - Ontario
New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair set the stage for the next election Thursday, positioning himself as more experienced than Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and more compassionate than Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Speaking to an enthusiastic standing room audience of New Democrat MPs and staff at the outset of the party's two-day caucus on Parliament Hill, Mulcair said the NDP offers a clear choice to Canadians.
"My friends, our offer to Canadians is clear: A government that stands up for middle class families; that grows the economy and creates stable, full-time jobs, while protecting the environment; where our youth get the opportunities they need and our seniors get the benefits they deserve."
Mulcair also moved to repair rifts in his own party by announcing that Brad Lavigne, an aide to former leader Jack Layton who left shortly after Mulcair became leader, is back as senior campaign advisor, working with National Campaign Director Anne McGrath and Quebec Campaign Director Rebecca Blaikie.
While Mulcair announced a number of staff changes, including the arrival of Alain Gaul as his new chief of staff and the addition of Michael Balagus, who ran the NDP's winning campaign in Manitoba, to head the Ontario campaign - it was the announcement of Lavigne's return that got the loudest applause.
Gaul was Mulcair's chief of staff when he served as Quebec's environment minister and more recently has worked as a lawyer at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg in Montreal. Raoul GÃ©bert, who led Mulcair's leadership campaign and has served as his chief of staff during his leadership will remain a close advisor and play "a key role" for the NDP in Quebec where it hopes to retain the record number of seats it won in the 2011 Orange Wave.
While the event was announced as a regular caucus meeting to prepare for the return of Parliament on Jan. 26, signs the party is focused on election planning and positioning were front and centre.
While Mulcair has tended to use Tom in English and Thomas in French, the election-style signs flanking him referred to Tom in both languages. Both signs focused on his track record - "Tom Mulcair. Experienced Leader" in English and "Tom Mulcair. Experience. Solide" in French.
In his speech, Mulcair didn't hesitate to contrast his experience as a cabinet minister and leader with that of Trudeau who worked as a teacher and as a speaker before entering politics.
"Whether it's meeting with premiers to work on the future of our federation or with world leaders to discuss global economic opportunities or terrorist threats, being prime minister is not an entry-level job," he told the audience.
"Over the coming weeks and months, we'll invite Canadians to ask themselves which leader has the experience to defeat Mr. Harper and the plan to repair the damage he's done."
Mulcair, who has been rolling out choice parts of the NDP's platform well in advance of the election, also took aim at the fact the Liberals have kept their platform under wraps.
"Increasingly, many Canadians appear to be telling Mr. Trudeau that if he doesn't have the experience for the job then at least he should have a plan. So far, he appears to be satisfied with having neither."
"Because, in the absence of experience and without a concrete plan, if we refuse to state where the solutions lie it means we're just not ready for the job. But Justin Trudeau still believes that he can just inherit power without proposing a thing."
Mulcair also didn't hesitate to contrast the NDP's positions with the Conservatives, painting a picture of Harper as someone who favours the wealthy over the middle class.
"Under Stephen Harper, inequality has grown between the privileged few and the middle class. We'll reverse that as well and as a first step we'll scrap his unfair income splitting scheme."
"Instead of taking billions of dollars from hard-working families and giving it to the wealthiest 15 per cent who don't need it, we'll invest that money in middle class families instead."
However, Mulcair reiterated that an NDP government would keep the child care benefit and child care tax credit introduced by the Conservatives.
Under the Conservative government, child care has become "scarce and unaffordable," said Mulcair, highlighting his party's proposal for one million $15-a-day daycare spaces.
Mulcair also outlined other Conservative measures he plans to reverse.
"Under Stephen Harper, senior citizens can't retire until 67. We'll reverse that and bring the retirement age back to 65. Under Stephen Harper there is no federal minimum wage. We'll fix that and bring in a federal minimum wage at $15 an hour."
The coming election was also on the minds of NDP MPs as they arrived for the caucus meeting.
Opposition House Leader Peter Julian suggested that support for Trudeau is softer than the polls indicate and could evaporate during an election campaign.
"He doesn't have experience and most Canadians acknowledge that," said Julian. "There's a time, of course, before an election campaign that people basically park their votes, but during an election campaign people tend to look very critically at the leaders - what they have to offer, what their experience has been and what kind of work they've done on behalf of the people of Canada."
Yvon Godin, NDP MP for Acadie-Bathurst, has announced he won't be running again but he hasn't lost any of his passion for politics.
Godin said the way the Liberals and now the Conservatives have handled health care and the employment insurance system will play a role in his home province of New Brunswick.
"We have to remember that in 1994 it was the Liberals who cut health care to a point that made the health care system sick and they were the ones who stole $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. It was the Conservatives who legalized the theft. I think workers will think about all those things."
Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson.
More to come