IN THE NEWS ~ With MPs returning to Parliament Monday, Conservatives prep aggressive attack on NDP's Mulcair

Jason Fekete

Duplicates: The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon); National Post; Ottawa Citizen.

   As MPs return to Parliament on Monday, the federal Conservative government

is launching into a more aggressive attack mode to brand NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and his party as risky to the Canadian economy.

   The NDP, however, is vowing to fight the Tory spin machine and highlight

what it says is the government's increasingly abysmal record on the economy

during a time of stubbornly high unemployment and a record trade deficit.

   While some of the government's attacks on Mulcair are bordering on

comical, political observers note the Conservatives' past efforts to brand

previous Liberal leaders were successful and they'll look to tap that strategy

once more against Mulcair and the official Opposition NDP .

   Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several senior Conservative cabinet

ministers have launched into coordinated attacks against Mulcair in recent days.

   They insist his policies would destroy the economy with a carbon tax

impacting everything, that he hates lower taxes, and that he wants to divide the

country and shut down the oilsands that's helping drive the Canadian economy.

   Much like they successfully did to former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion

(with attack ads insisting he's "not a leader") and Michael Ignatieff (ads

saying he's "just visiting"), the Conservatives are hoping to box Mulcair and

the NDP into a corner and influence public opinion years before the next federal

election, expected in 2015.

   The Conservatives are focusing their attacks on what they maintain is

Mulcair's support for a carbon tax or carbon pricing of some sort that would

cripple the already fragile Canadian economy.

   Mulcair doesn't endorse a straight carbon tax on fuels, but is calling for

a cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme based on a principle that "polluters

pay" - a system similar to what the Conservative government previously supported

in conjunction with the United States.

   The NDP says the money from the program would be invested in green

technology and infrastructure, but the government believes the opposition's

carbon policies would damage the economy.

   "We will have a busy parliamentary session ahead of us. Our government's

priorities will be, obviously continue to be, the economy, given the uncertainty

of the world economy. We are focused on the creation of good jobs, growth and

long-term prosperity for Canadians," Harper told reporters last week during a

stop in Quebec.

   "It's a very different focus than the opposition, which is focused on a

carbon tax and increasing taxes, and obviously there's a very fundamental

difference between us."

   Also last week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver - during a gathering

of the country's energy ministers - fired off his own unprompted attack against

Mulcair and the NDP.

   "That (carbon pricing) is something that the NDP has advanced and we

consider that attacks on everything and therefore attacks on everyone, which

would slow down economic growth and kill jobs," Oliver said.

   Peter Julian, the NDP's energy critic, said the Tory messaging campaign is

simply spewing misinformation and is an act of "sheer desperation."

   "The Conservatives are facing something which I think they've never faced

before which is a very strong official Opposition that is united and has very

clear positions on a variety of issues," Julian said.

   Ryerson University media expert Greg Elmer has been tracking the

progression of Conservative attacks against the NDP and suggests the strategy is

different from the ones used against Ignatieff and Dion.

   In an attempt to prove the NDP isn't ready to govern, the Conservatives

have zeroed in on things like Mulcair's temper and the ability of the team that

surrounds him.

   While he expects such personal attacks to come up again, the party seems

to be taking a different tack and is now focusing on the issues.

   "The thing about Tom Mulcair is he has very strong language skills and

communications skills," he said.

   "To directly attack, to personalize many of those attacks against one

individual, symbolically, with those skill sets, I think, might be a danger for

the Conservatives."

   © Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

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