POLITICS

NDP takes on Conservatives over jobs, Wheat Board

09/15/2011 03:36 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:08 EST

The NDP has set its sights on governing in 2015, and the party is taking on the Conservatives in some key areas.

The party has picked jobs and the economy as a major branch of its strategy for the coming year, fighting the Tories on the governing party's preferred battleground.

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel laid out the New Democrats' primary focus Thursday at the party's caucus retreat in Quebec City ahead of Parliament's return next week, sticking tightly to the message she set out a day earlier at a press conference.

"We are going to focus on jobs. And we are going to focus on retirement security. And finally, we are going to ensure Canada continues to invest in the critical infrastructure we need to get this economy rolling," Turmel said.

She touched on a familiar theme, playing off the Conservative party's mantra of a "strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government," which Tories repeated over and over throughout last spring's election campaign.

"I am surrounded by a strong, national, united team, ready to fight for families," Turmel said.

The NDP is also targetting Prairie farmers who support the Canadian Wheat Board and Montrealers fed up with crumbling bridges, picking those two issues on which to push the government.

MPs and party officials say, aside from parliamentary strategy, they want to reach out to the voters who gave them Official Opposition status, and to new supporters who could take them all the way to government.

Regional issues

Quebec voters were a major part of the party's rise in status, giving the NDP 59 of 75 seats in the province. Many in Montreal are frustrated with the state of the city's roads and bridges, with Mayor Gérald Tremblay demanding the federal and provincial governments pony up cash to help.

People on Montreal's South Shore, Turmel says, literally say their prayers when they drive to work.

"Mr. Harper, no more excuses. Build a new bridge now," she urged.

As for the Canadian Wheat Board, wheat growers gave the board 60 per cent support in a vote earlier this week, following a promise by the federal government to dismantle it. Barley growers voted 51 per cent in favour of maintaining the board's monopoly. Some 55 per cent of wheat growers and 47 per cent of barley growers voted in the plebiscite.

"New Democrats are going to ensure that Prairie farmers are heard loud and clear. We are going to fight for the Prairies. We are going to fight for the family farm. Mr. Harper, we are going to take you on every day and fight to save the wheat board," Turmel said.

Despite the party's Prairie populist roots, the NDP has no MPs from Saskatchewan, just one in Alberta and two in Manitoba.

MPs return to the House of Commons Monday after the summer recess. It will be the NDP's first session without late leader Jack Layton, and the second month in Parliament for many of the party's newly elected members.