WINNIPEG - The federal New Democrats are hoping to duplicate their Quebec election success on the Prairies, but political watchers suggest the party has its work cut out.
The NDP is launching an initiative it says will develop "a bold vision for Westerners, grounded in the party's strong Prairie roots."
So what does that mean?
"That's up to the members," said party president Rebecca Blaikie.
"The vision that we have right now is to bring people together. And so the kind of grassroots organizing that we are launching on the Prairies is the same kind of grassroots organizing that we did in Quebec...in many, many years that led up to our eventual victory there."
Blaikie was a key figure in the effort in Quebec, where the NDP vaulted to Opposition status in the last federal election by capturing 58 seats.
The NDP has just three members of Parliament on the Prairies — two in Manitoba and one in Alberta. It doesn't have any seats in Saskatchewan, where the party was born.
During NDP leadership race in February 2012, Tom Mulcair said the only way the party can build on its success is to hold onto those seats in Quebec and convince Westerners that New Democrats are capable of good public administration.
Blaikie said the initiative is about making sure people are heard.
"That those voices can then be formed into resolutions and that those resolutions can be taken to the convention in Montreal in April to make sure that there really is a strong Prairie presence and Prairie voice at that convention," she said.
"That will lead us towards a vision of how to grow our party on the Prairies in time for the next election."
Jim Farney, an associate political science professor at the University of Regina, says the goal make sense, especially coming from Blaikie, a Manitoban, and Mulcair.
"It wouldn't be surprising for the two of them to say, 'Here's a part of the country we haven't been strong in federally for a generation really, I wonder if there's ground to be made up there,' especially in Manitoba and Saskatchewan," said Farney.
Farney said the NDP may also be betting on the continued collapse of the Liberals in urban Alberta ridings.
But the professor admitted he isn't clear on what the "bold vision" will look like.
"I mean obviously we can figure out the buzz words, it'll be environmentally friendly and sustainable and progressive and all that stuff," he said.
"But it's hard to say. When you listen to Mulcair talk, it's a lot about reinvigorating manufacturing. Well, we don't have much of a manufacturing sector on the Prairies. It's about maintaining community — well, we're a place people move to, so what does that mean for us?"
"Until they actually start rolling out what that means, it's hard to say."
Farney said the issue of resource development is going to be a problem for the NDP.
Mulcair's comments about the energy sector have not been popular in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
The Opposition leader said last year that Canada is afflicted with the so-called "Dutch disease" phenomenon. He has repeatedly said economic strength in Alberta, fuelled mainly by the oilsands, is jacking up the Canadian dollar and hurting manufacturers elsewhere in the country.
"I think some people felt alienated by it and some people felt validated by it," said Blaikie.
"Not everybody who lives in Alberta or Saskatchewan feels completely comfortable with the way that industry and corporations are taking running or are taking advantage of the resources in their provinces and they want to make sure that wealth is shared better."
An official with Mulcair's office said the Prairie initiative will be part of the discussions when Mulcair meets Tuesday with his provincial counterparts, including Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, as well as NDP leaders Brian Mason from Alberta and John Nilson from Saskatchewan.
Topics will include the economy and jobs, as well as energy and natural resources.
— By Jennifer Graham in Regina
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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="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" 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="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" 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="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" 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="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" 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="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" 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 says that now that he is leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he will not take part in the upcoming French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
2. Young Love At First Sight
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" 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="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" 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.