HAMILTON - The Harper government's cuts to public service jobs are putting Canadians at risk, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair warned Sunday as he vowed to defend the protections people need.
Mulcair launched a scathing attack against Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a speech to Ontario New Democrats meeting in Hamilton, lashing out at the Conservatives for cutting food inspectors after people died from tainted meats, saying it's a clear sign they have the wrong priorities.
"We had people die in Canada a couple years ago. We had a minister who made jokes about it who is still the minister, and now they’re cutting back on food inspections," said Mulcair.
"They’re cutting back on aeronautical safety. What could be more important for the public?"
Mulcair said it's easy for government to pick on civil servants, but they should remember those workers provide services that people need.
Reacting to Mulcair's comments, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement that the government would not make changes "that would in any way place food safety at risk." Ritz said if Mulcair and the NDP "actually care about food safety" they'd support the Conservative budget.
Mulcair also tore a strip off the Conservatives for reducing health transfers to the provinces and for saying they wouldn't touch pensions when they made changes to Old Age Security in the budget.
"They’re not only dishonest, but they play Canadians for fools," said Mulcair.
"Well, we’re going to show them otherwise."
The freshly-minted Opposition leader said the NDP will be going after Harper and targeting the Conservatives' reputation as good public administrators, which he said they have not earned.
"Over the next couple of years, as we start taking on Stephen Harper in an even more detailed and structured manner, we’ll start defining him and his mistakes to the Canadian voting public as we prepare for the 2015 election," Mulcair said to cheers from the New Democratic faithful.
"We’ll start doing to him what he’s always done to us."
Mulcair also said there was nothing unusual about the fact he introduces himself as Tom in his new English-language television ads, but is still Thomas in all his French communications, and joked that if he was really looking for votes he'd try to remind people of party founding hero Tommy Douglas.
"My bothers and sisters and people in the family have always called me Tommy, but then I’d really be accused of usurping," he said. "Tom is what I’ve always used in English."
Earlier Sunday, during an interview on CTV's Question Period, Mulcair said the job ahead of him is to convince Canadians that the NDP is capable of forming a "strong, competent public administration."
Conservatives have focused their political attack in the House of Commons on the record of Ontario's NDP government in the 1990s, which was led by now-interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
The talking points line has been that New Democrats are not fit to govern.
Despite that, a series of recent public opinion polls have put placed New Democrats in a statistical tie with the governing Conservatives, something Mulcair described in the interview as encouraging.
He pointed out there's still a long way to go until the next election.
Mulcair said the party will focus particular attention on its Quebec power base, where a surge in membership support that came with the leadership campaign will allow them to build solid riding associations.
But he said he's convinced the NDP's message and its attempt to define itself as an alternative to Harper's Conservatives resonates far beyond Quebec.
"My goal is to form an NDP majority government and with the types of polls we're seeing now Canadians are rallying to us," he said.