OTTAWA — Ask Thomas Mulcair what he learned from travelling across the country this year and his answer has little to do with getting ready for the rigours of a national campaign, such as smiling through jet lag.
It’s about his impression of Canada as being made up of good people trying to do well by one another, something he views as reflected in our institutions, from the geographic and linguistic interests that determine seat distribution to the now dismantled Canadian Wheat Board.
“The fundamental goodness of Canadians for one another, the institutions that we’ve built up that are a reflection of that goodness, that’s what we want to fight for,” the New Democratic leader said Thursday in an interview in his Parliament Hill office.
Mulcair says he gets “very emotional” as he speaks about his travel across Canada, which includes some 40 trips to the Greater Toronto Area, but the words he chose were clearly meant to deliver a political message that sets up his narrative — and challenge — for the 2015 federal election campaign.
Mulcair believes his vision of the country stands in contrast to that of the Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he sees as destroying or undermining these institutions, and the Justin Trudeau Liberals, whom he accuses of having no vision at all.
“For the first time in Canadian history, in 2015 there is going to be a race where we’ve got a clearly defined right-wing party and a clearly defined social democratic party,” said Mulcair.
“Canadians deserve better than to be told they have no choice but to go back to a party that admits that its leader is not ready to lead,” said Mulcair, referring to television ads the Liberals ran last May that referred to Trudeau as “getting ready” to lead.
“It’s between Stephen Harper and us next year,” Mulcair said.
The polls suggest it will be an uphill battle for the NDP to make the 2015 election a three-way race, never mind a two-way one that tries to ignore the charismatic Trudeau, who, the orange team is quick to lament, usually gets more news coverage than Mulcair.
A big part of Mulcair’s strategy is to familiarize voters with NDP policies — such as their $15 per day national child-care plan versus the Conservative income-splitting plan — before the Liberals share theirs.
Several NDP MPs and other sources have said this switch to campaign mode has galvanized caucus following a summer of jittery feelings and low morale over the polls and difficulty attracting attention.
“We’d like to have the bulk of our program understood by Canadians well in advance of the election, rather than having a bouquet of fireworks on a single day during the campaign,” Mulcair said.
“I think it’s a question of ethics with the public, frankly. Give them the information, let them come up with their decisions and don’t try to squeeze everything into a flash and dazzle announcement in the middle of the campaign when they don’t have any time to weigh it or look at it,” said Mulcair.
Mulcair said to expect more announcements on pensions, further support for seniors and the environment in the New Year.
While he did not get specific about money for transit in Toronto, Mulcair did address the challenge posed by TTC union president Bob Kinnear, who said last month he would be prepared to endorse any party — including the Conservatives — that gave Toronto the money it needs for transit.
“It comes down to a question of credibility,” said Mulcair, noting the NDP has had a national transit strategy for years.
“Who’s actually going to get the job done? That’s why I’m not worried about Mr. Kinnear’s support in the next campaign.”
Mulcair acknowledged the falling price of oil — crude is now below $60 a barrel — “is a serious concern to everyone” that would have an impact on a government’s ability to spend, but he blames Harper for not doing enough to diversify the economy.
“There’s no question that given the economy that Mr. Harper has built up, that is so reliant on the extraction sector and the oil and gas sector in particular, that the falling prices are of course going to have an effect,” Mulcair said.
Still, Mulcair would not go so far as to say he would have to delay implementing his own big plans.
“Governing is about priorities. Our priorities are different from those of Mr. Harper. Mr. Harper has reduced corporate taxes . . . . We are quite clear. We are going to raise corporate taxes. That’s one of the things that we are going to do,” Mulcair said.