OTTAWA - Newly minted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is being introduced to Canadians as someone who will fight for ordinary families, much as his predecessor, Jack Layton, did.
The emphasis is on continuity, not change, in a new English television ad being launched by the federal NDP today.
It features a cameo by Layton's widow, NDP MP Olivia Chow, who assures viewers that "Jack's vision is in good hands."
During the seven-month leadership contest to choose Layton's successor, Mulcair was portrayed by his rivals as someone who would lurch the social democratic party to the centre of the political spectrum, turning it into a pale imitation of the Liberal party.
Mulcair contributed to the sense that he would dramatically change the NDP, promising to broaden the party's base and complaining about the out-of-date "boilerplate" language the party frequently uses to describe its traditional target voters: "ordinary" Canadians.
Yet the English ad features a series of, well, ordinary Canadian men and women, expressing confidence that Mulcair will champion the issues closest to their hearts.
"He'll fight for my family," says a young mother, packing groceries into her car.
"He cares if I make ends meet," adds a tool-toting tradesman.
"And find a good job," chimes in a bicycle-riding young woman.
"He'll take on (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper," predicts a health care professional.
"And win," concludes a middle-aged jogger.
Mulcair, dressed conservatively in a dark suit and tie, leaning on what looks like a board room table, then introduces himself.
"As a cabinet minister and a member of Jack's team, I've always fought for you," he says with a smile.
"We've started something special together. Now, let's get the job done."
The English ad is part of the biggest, non-election ad campaign ever launched by the NDP. The party began airing a French TV ad last week. Both are intended to pre-empt an expected barrage of attack ads from the Conservatives.
The Tories helped demolish the past two Liberal leaders, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, with attack ads that portrayed them respectively as "not a leader" and "just visiting" Canada. The ads helped create a negative impression of the two leaders before they got a chance to introduce themselves on their own terms to Canadians.
New Democrats hope their ads will help them define their new leader in a positive way before the Tories can frame him in a negative light. The party won't say how much it's spending on the ads, other than to say it's "the largest non-election advertising campaign" in NDP history.
The party says both the French and English ads will be broadcast during popular, prime time shows, such as Hockey Night in Canada, American Idol and The Good Wife.
The English ad is more introductory in tone than last week's French ad, which featured a more casual Mulcair, rolling up his shirt sleeves and vowing to continue the work that produced the orange wave that swept Quebec during last May's election.
Mulcair is well-known in Quebec, where he served as a provincial Liberal cabinet minister. He was chosen on March 24 to succeed Layton largely on the strength of his perceived ability to hang onto the NDP's newfound base in the province.
Outside Quebec, however, Mulcair is an unknown quantity for most Canadians.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair comments on the federal budget in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday March 29, 2012. If there was any doubt that Thomas Mulcair's political universe revolves around Quebec, it was dispelled by his response to Thursday's federal budget. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair addresses the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday April 5, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)