ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wants his party to be "completely ready" by the fall of 2014 for a federal election that he predicts will come sooner than expected.

Under the fixed-election law introduced in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's purported effort to ensure a fixed four-year interval between elections, the next vote is supposed to take place on Oct. 19, 2015.

There's just one catch: the law has never done what it was supposed to do, and there's no reason to think that's going to change any time soon, Mulcair said Wednesday during his party's annual summer caucus retreat in St. John's, N.L.

Harper called an election in the fall of 2008, just two and a half years after the previous vote. His minority government was defeated less than three years later in the spring of 2011.

Indeed, Harper has already hinted the law will be amended to ensure the next federal campaign doesn't overlap with as many as seven different provincial elections scheduled for about the same time.

"We're counting on the past to guarantee the future," Mulcair said. "We're thinking that the likely timeline is the spring of 2015, which makes it even more important for us to be completely ready for the fall of '14."

Mulcair opened the retreat by advising his caucus that "a two-year countdown has started for us."

"By the fall of '14, we've got to be completely ready to take on the Conservatives in the next election with a much more generous and fair vision of type of Canada that we all want to build together."

The retreat, which wraps up Thursday, is aimed at plotting strategy for the Sept. 17 resumption of Parliament and, over the longer term, ensuring the NDP is poised to defeat Harper's Conservatives in the next election.

It's the first time New Democrats have had the luxury of indulging in long-term planning since vaulting into official Opposition status in the May 2011 election.

Since then, the party has been lurching from one crisis to another: scrambling to train inexperienced MPs, coping with the death last summer of leader Jack Layton, organizing a bruising, seven-month leadership race and making the transition to Mulcair's leadership while mounting a simultaneous parliamentary war against the Tories' massive omnibus budget bill.

Party insiders have equated the caucus retreat to hitting the "reset button."

Outside caucus, Mulcair said setting a deadline for full election readiness is intended to "get people's minds concentrated on the fact that things do move forward quickly and we have to be ready and there's a lot of work to be done.

"Two years seems like a long time, but it's actually quite fast in politics."

There is work to be done on both the "mechanical" side and on the policy side, he added.

The first task — making sure the novice MPs elected in 2011 put down roots in their ridings — is already well under way, Mulcair said. But beyond that, there is still much to do.

"We've got to teach people about the fine art of fundraising, how to get money, how to get ready for the next campaign," he said, adding that the party is in the process of bringing new technologies to bear to identify potential donors.

On policy, he said the party needs to give substance to its stance on sustainable development and develop economic policies that give Canadians "confidence in our ability to run this complex economy in this very large country."

In a bid to burnish the party's economic credentials, NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said she'll be meeting with chambers of commerce in cities across the country in the next few weeks, listening to their ideas on how to create jobs and economic growth.

She said business groups are "pleasantly surprised" to find the NDP is interested in their concerns, although she said the experience of fiscally prudent provincial NDP governments has helped alleviate fears that a socialist federal government would indulge in reckless spending.

"Clearly economic credibility is important to Canadians. Just as families have to deal with the issue of affordability, they want to make sure their government is credible when it comes to economic issues," Nash said.

During Wednesday's retreat, the party's 101 MPs attended workshops, some on issues the NDP believes need more attention, others on the mechanics of how to be a more effective MP and how to prepare for an election.

In the near term, Mulcair said his caucus will focus this fall on three key areas that arose out of last spring's budget: employment insurance reforms that could negatively impact seasonal workers, raising the retirement age to 67 and the "gutting" of environmental assessment legislation.

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  • Little-Known Mulcair Facts

    Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)

  • 10. He Used To Be A Liberal

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)

  • 8. He's French (Kind Of)

    Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 7. They Used To Be Friends

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)

  • 6. Ancestor Was Premier Of Quebec

    Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

  • 5. First!

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)

  • 4. He's Half Irish.

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • 3. He Votes In France

    Muclair has voted in past French elections, but after becoming leader of the Official Opposition <a href="" target="_hplink">he said he would not cast a ballot in the French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)

  • 2. Young Love At First Sight

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)

  • 1. Mr. Angry

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.

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