OTTAWA - Tom Mulcair has evidently concluded that ignoring a problem won't make it go away.
The NDP leader is coming out swinging at Justin Trudeau, whose existence he's barely acknowledged until now.
Last April, on the eve of Trudeau's coronation as Liberal leader, Mulcair dismissively batted away questions about the threat the third-place party's popular new messiah might pose to the NDP's newfound claim to be the government in waiting.
"My job is to replace Stephen Harper's Conservatives," he told CBC's The House.
Five months later, that's still Mulcair's goal. But with the Liberals continuing to hold the lead in opinion polls and New Democrats languishing back in their traditional third-place slot, Mulcair can no longer afford to wait in hopes that Trudeau will blow himself up or that his extended honeymoon will finally peter out as the novelty wears off.
"We're going to take on Stephen Harper. He's our adversary for the next campaign," Mulcair said in an interview as he prepares for a caucus retreat next week to plot strategy for the fall.
"But we're also going to talk straight up with Canadians about the fact that we're the only one who can be relied on to actually make things different."
And that necessarily means deflating expectations of Trudeau — in particular, zeroing in on his perceived weakness when it comes to managing the economy.
Trudeau gave his rivals an opening last week, when he resolutely refused to be rushed into pronouncing detailed policy prescriptions for what ails the economy. He said he intends to consult extensively with Canadians before developing a platform for the 2015 election.
Mulcair likened Trudeau's stance to short-lived prime minister Kim Campbell's infamous assertion that election campaigns aren't the time to talk about complicated policy issues.
"That's the Kim Campbell approach, right? You know, this is far too serious to talk to you about in advance," he scoffed in an interview.
Mulcair's allusion to Campbell — who soared to record highs in the polls after her election as Progressive Conservative leader in 1993, only to crash and burn in an election a few months later — was doubtless deliberate. At any rate, it's clear he hopes Trudeau will follow a similar trajectory.
At the NDP's annual summer caucus retreat last year, Mulcair said he warned his MPs that the NDP's honeymoon, following his own election as leader six months earlier, would not last.
"Our (poll) numbers were very high and they were giddy with the numbers and I just sat everybody down, literally all 100 MPs and I said ... 'Take a deep breath, those numbers aren't going to hold, the Liberals are going to go through a year where it's their turn to have a leadership race, they'll get a lot of attention, they'll be on helium at the end of the spring session.'
"This is not unexpected to me. But there's an arc to these stories, there's a cadence to them. And what we're seeing now is for the first time ... some people are just scratching their heads and saying, 'What's this? You mean you're not going to have any ideas and you're expecting us to just let you coast until the next election?'
In contrast to Trudeau's reluctance to be pinned down, Mulcair said the NDP will spend the fall setting up the economic themes it intends to push during the 2015 campaign: household debt, credit card fees, seniors in poverty and inter-generational equity — his belief that "we're leaving the largest ecological, economic and social debt in history on the backs of the next generation, which for the first time in Canadian history is going to have less than the generation before."
"And that's something we're not just going to talk about, we're going to prescribe how we can change things."
In some respects, Mulcair faces the same challenge as Trudeau: the need to prove his economic bona fides. Having never formed government federally, he acknowledges Canadians are wary of handing the NDP the keys to the national treasury.
But unlike Trudeau so far, Mulcair has taken pains since becoming leader to stress his background as a prudent public administrator and has attempted to send reassuring signals about his economic policies, such as adopting a more open posture toward free trade deals and repeatedly stressing that provincial New Democrat governments have a better record of balancing budgets than any other party.
"It's not a very sexy campaign theme to say you're going to provide good, competent public administration but it is something that we have to talk about ... we're going to have to be dealing with that straight up," he said.
Mulcair's newfound willingness to engage battle with Trudeau doesn't mean he intends to let Harper off the hook.
The prime minister has delayed the return of Parliament until sometime in October, when he hopes to hit the re-set button on a scandal-plagued year with a mid-mandate throne speech. But the NDP leader, who won rave reviews for his prosecutorial questioning of Harper on the Senate expenses scandal during the spring, doesn't intend to let Harper change the channel without a fight.
The NDP will continue to hammer away at what Mulcair describes as Harper's implausible insistence that he knew nothing about his former chief of staff's decision to give Sen. Mike Duffy $90,000 to reimburse the Senate for invalid living expenses — a transaction now at the centre of an RCMP investigation.
"He can run but he can't hide," Mulcair said.
Harper's summer break began on a sombre note with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/21/alberta-flooding-stephen-harper_n_3481375.html" target="_blank">a visit to Calgary</a> on June 21 to assess the damage caused by floods sweeping across southern Alberta. "I've seen a little bit of flooding in Calgary before," he said. "I don't think any of us have seen anything like this." A photo captured the prime minister looking down at the flooded landscape from his helicopter. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/12/conservative-convention-halloween_n_3588641.html" target="_blank">The flooding prompted Tories to postpone a party convention planned for June 27 in Calgary until October 31.</a>
So, About That Jacket..
Harper’s decision to wear a green military flight jacket to survey the damage proved to be somewhat controversial, with more than a few taking to Twitter to lambaste the prime minister for trying to look the part of a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/24/harper-military-jacket-alberta-troops_n_3491629.html" target="_blank">U.S. president or action hero</a>. But Harper’s press secretary explained to HuffPost that the jacket was given to prime minister by the helicopter crew in 2011 while he toured the flood devastation in Manitoba. "He was wearing it as a tribute to the military assisting the people in difficult times," Carl Vallée wrote in an email.
Trudeau Shows Pride
Trudeau made a splash by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/30/toronto-pride-parade_n_3524106.html" target="_blank">marching in Canada’s largest gay pride parade</a> in Toronto. The Liberal leader also took part in Montreal's festivities. "It's my first time [at the event] in Toronto, I've celebrated many times in Montreal, but the energy here is just astounding. It's wonderful to see such celebration, such positivity and such pride," said Trudeau.
And Mulcair Too!
The NDP leader cut loose at gay pride parades in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver this summer. "There's still a lot of discrimination against the community and it's important to show that diversity is something to be respected," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/30/toronto-pride-parade_n_3524106.html" target="_blank">Mulcair said in Toronto.</a> Harper did not participate.
Don't Call It A Comeback
Trudeau, who made a name for himself by<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/trudeau-brazeau-boxing-justin-patrick_n_1394122.html" target="_blank"> defeating controversial Sen. Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match</a> in 2012, returned to the ring during a stop in Regina in July.
As usual, all three leaders descended on Calgary for the annual Stampede.
Not All Fun And Games
Harper <a href="http://on.aol.ca/video/stephen-harper-prouder-than-ever-to-be-an-albertan-517846923" target="_blank">opened up at his annual Stampede barbecue</a> about how he was "prouder than ever" to be an Albertan in the wake of the flooding. "I have served as prime minister of Canada for over seven years now and I have to admit that the strength I've seen in Albertans the past few weeks, the resilience, the kindness also of Canadians everywhere, I have to tell you I have found myself very, very deeply touched."
No Time For Partisan Politics
Mulcair took a softer approach during his Stampede visit,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/06/calgary-stampede-partisan-politics-flooding_n_3555087.html" target="_blank"> staying away from partisan jabs</a> against Conservatives. "I honestly do believe the federal government is doing everything it can," Mulcair said. "They'll have our full support. There are times when we will talk partisan politics. This isn't one of them."
Trudeau cozied up to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/naheed-nenshi/" target="_blank">Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi</a> during the Stampede. Nenshi's tireless efforts after the floods made him arguably the most popular politician in the country this summer.
And of course, the new Liberal leader flipped some pancakes.
Harper and his wife made sure to help with flood clean-up in High River, Alberta, and to share photos online. "Had a great afternoon in High River lending a hand," Harper wrote on <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/9220169384/" target="_blank">his official Flickr account</a>.
Men At Work
Not to be outdone, the Liberal leader also <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/354079855920414723/photo/1" target="_blank">posted photos of his High River volunteer work to Twitter</a>. "Great afternoon of hard work in High River. Amazing, resilient people. #MissionPossible2," Trudeau wrote.
While in Alberta, Harper found time to plan a surprise party for his wife's 50th birthday. <a href="Threw a surprise party for @laureen_harper_ on her 50th birthday. Here's the moment of surprise." target="_blank">The PM posted a photo capturing "the moment of surprise" to Flickr. </a>
Tragedy In Lac-Megantic
Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau all visited Lac-Megantic in the first week of July after a rail disaster devastated the small Quebec town. <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/death-toll-in-lac-megantic-disaster-now-set-at-47-1.1374099" target="_blank">The official death toll for the disaster was set at 47.</a>
Did I Speak Too Soon?
Mulcair sparked controversy after <a href="http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/mulcair-slams-harper-over-lac-megantic-1.1356485#ixzz2YSeTnYTt" target="_blank">suggesting to CTV News</a> that Tory policies directly contributed to the Lac-Megantic explosion. "Governments have to regulate in the public interest. Nothing more important in what governments do than taking care of the safety of the public. And this is another case where the government has been cutting in the wrong area,” he said. Former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae accused Mulcair of sinking to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/08/lac-megantic-thomas-mulcair_n_3561321.html" target="_blank">"a new low."</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/10/thomas-mulcair-lac-megant_n_3575840.html" target="_blank">Mulcair later denied linking the disaster with Tory budget cuts.</a> "I've been prudent not to draw the exact link," he said.
With other leaders on the barbecue circuit, Mulcair took off in early July ... to France. The NDP leader met with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, the leader of the Socialist Party and other officials to <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/07/11/kelly-mcparland-mulcair-falls-flat-in-effort-to-look-prime-ministerial/" target="_blank">discuss trade and the economy.</a> Pundits suggested Mulcair, who holds dual French and Canadian citizenship, was attempting to beef up his international stature and appear prime ministerial.
Did Somebody Say Cabinet Shuffle?
As expected, the prime minister brought some fresh faces into cabinet with a shuffle in mid-July. Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/15/harper-tweets-cabinet-shuffle-twitter_n_3598565.html" target="_blank">tweeted the names of his ministers</a> before the formal swearing-in at Rideau Hall in just his latest bid to improve his social media presence. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/15/cabinet-shuffle-2013-interesting-moves_n_3600444.html" target="_blank">Among the 10 most interesting moves?</a> James Moores' promotion to Industy, Jason Kenney's move to Employment and Social Development and the promotion of Chris Alexander to Immigration and Shelly Glover to Heritage. Harper's team for 2015 is now set.
Trudeau, his wife Sophie Grégoire and their children spent a good chunk of time in battleground British Columbia this summer. Intimate photos, like this one of the couple driving an RV through the B.C. interior, made a splash on social media.
Remembering A Fallen Brother
Trudeau and his family hiked to Kokanee Lake, B.C., where his younger brother, Michel, was killed in a 1998 avalanche.
Oh, And This Happened..
"I see my friend waving a sign about decriminalizing cannabis. I’ll take that as a question," Trudeau said to a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/24/justin-trudeau-marijuana-legal_n_3645624.html" target="_blank">group of prospective B.C. voters</a>. "I’m actually not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis – I’m in favour of legalizing it. Tax and regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current war on drugs, the current model isn’t working."
Harper Goes North
Harper made his eighth annual tour of Canada's north in August. The prime minister thrilled kids in Hay River, Northwest Territories by inviting them to pose for a photo on the tailgate of a Hercules aircraft.
Harper did his best Putin impression by shooting a .303 Lee Enfield rifle while taking part in a demonstration from Canadian Rangers in Nunavut.
But He Also Camped..
And Enjoyed Music..
And Went Hiking..
And Took Romantic Photos..
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/" target="_blank">From Harper's Flickr account:</a> "PM Harper and his wife, Laureen, pause for a photo at Alexandra Falls in the Northwest Territories."
And Announced He Wants Parliament Prorogued..
Harper said in Whitehorse on Aug. 19 that he intended to pull the plug on a tumultuous session of Parliament and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/19/harper-prorogue_n_3780873.html" target="_blank">start fresh with a throne speech in the fall.</a>. The PM's decision came amid fresh revelations in the Senate expense scandal/ "Obviously, the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back — October is our tentative timing — and we will obviously have some unfulfilled commitments that we will continue to work on," he said. Mulcair wasted no time suggesting the PM was running scared. "People aren't going to be fooled," Mulcair said in a statement. "This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement."
And Confirmed He's IN For The Next Election
Harper put to rest rumours he could pack it in before the next federal election by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/19/stephen-harper-2015-progogation_n_3781293.html" target="_blank">announcing in Whitehorse that he'll be running again in 2015.</a> A reporter asked Harper direclty whether he would lead Conservatives into the next election. "The answer to the last question is, of course, yes,'' he said to cheers from partisan supporters. "I'm actually disappointed you feel the need to ask that question.''
We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
Trudeau <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/369926160882212865/photo/1" target="_blank">announced on Twitter</a> in August that his wife is pregnant with the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/20/justin-trudeau-baby-sophie-gregoire-pregnant_n_3785575.html" target="_blank">couple's third child.</a> "Thrilled to let you know we're going to need another seat in our canoe: Sophie is pregnant! #threeisthenewtwo"
Trudeau's Pot Admission
Trudeau <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/justin-trudeau-marijuana-mp_n_3792208.html" target="_blank">sat down with HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj in August</a> and admitted that he has smoked marijuana since becoming an MP in 2008. The Liberal leader opened up about how his views about pot legalization have changed. He also revealed that his late brother, Michel Trudeau, was facing pot possession charges before his death in an avalanche in 1998 and that the experience influenced his position. Trudeau said he's smoked pot five or six times in his life. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/justin-trudeau-marijuana-mp_n_3792208.html" target="_blank">READ THE FULL STORY</a> The interview made national news, with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/justin-trudeau-marijuana-peter-mackay_n_3797481.html" target="_blank">Justice Minister Peter MacKay quick to slam Trudeau</a> for setting a "poor example" for kids. A law professor, however, took MacKay to task for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/26/peter-mackay-pot-trudeau_n_3816626.html" target="_blank">"misleading Canadians"</a> by saying Trudeau broke the law by smoking pot.
He Also Installed A Dimmer, Apparently..
"Am I the only one who finds successfully installing a dimmer oddly satisfying? #joysofmoving #excitingmondaynight," Trudeau <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/369632427448487936/photo/1" target="_blank">wrote on Twitter</a>.
Mulcair gave a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/14/mulcair-lac-megantic-deregulation_n_3756307.html" target="_blank">speech to the United Food and Commercial Workers International union in Chicago</a> in mid-August where he again drew a link between the Lac-Megantic disaster and government deregulation. The NDP leader accused conservatives in both Canada and the U.S. of dismantling health, safety and environmental protections in pursuit of prosperity. "Across the board, conservative governments are gutting the rules meant to protect the public and imposing industry self-regulation instead," he said. "Experts from the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada are still investigating the role decades of deregulation played in the tragedy of Lac-Megantic."
Roll Up The Red Carpet
Mulcair launched a cross-country, "Roll Up The Red Carpet" tour in the last week of August to publicize the NDP's support for abolishing the Senate. The NDP leader took his message from coast to coast. "The Senate expense scandal — and the involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office in trying to cover it up — has served to erode even further Canadians’ trust in the Senate," Mulcair <a href="http://www.ndp.ca/news/mulcair-kicks-ndps-roll-red-carpet-tour" target="_blank">said in a statement</a>. "The old line parties support the Senate because the Senate supports them. But more and more, Canadians can see there is a solution: abolition."
Can You Smell That Writ?
While in Nova Scotia, Mulcair met with Premier Darrell Dexter, who is expected to call a provincial election soon. <a href="https://twitter.com/ThomasMulcair/status/372116063367860224/photo/1" target="_blank">Needless to say, Mulcair and Dexter both agree it's time for the Senate to go</a>. "We put Nova Scotia’s old Senate chamber to good use — a conversation on abolishing Canada’s archaic Senate. #NDP"
Trudeau and his fellow Grits met in Prince Edward Island for the Liberal summer caucus retreat at the end of August. The Liberal leader cautioned that his party won't be releasing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/trudeau-liberals-policy-2015_n_3831826.html" target="_blank">any concrete policy proposals until 2015.</a> He also drew the ire of the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/29/trudeau-segregation-parti-quebecois_n_3836975.html" target="_blank">drawing parallels</a> between the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which would restrict public employees from wearing religious symbols like turbans or hijabs, and U.S. segregation. Trudeau's remarks came on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. "These days when you reflect on the 50th anniversary of that magnificent speech by Dr. King, who was fighting segregation, who was fighting discrimination, who was rejection the notion that there are second-class citizens, you see that unfortunately even today, when we're talking, for instance, about this idea of a charter of Quebec values, there are still people who believe you must choose between your religion and Quebecois identity, there are people forced by the state in Quebec to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices."
BUT, He Did Take Selfies..
And Delighted Little Kids..
And Did The Old 'That High-Five Sure Stung' Gag..
And Charmed Women Having Drinks On A Patio..
'Do I Seem Like I Smoke Marijuana?'
After Trudeau's cannabis candour, politicians across Canada were asked about their own experiences with marijuana — including Harper. "Do I seem like I smoke marijuana?" Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/29/stephen-harper-pot-marijuana_n_3838009.html" target="_blank">asked a reporter</a>, before saying his his asthma precluded smoking. The PM then repeated earlier Tory criticism of Trudeau, whom he said showed "poor judgment" with his pot use. "I look at the contrast with him promoting marijuana use for our children versus saying yesterday he will have no economic policy for several years," he said.
Also, This Happened..
<a href="https://twitter.com/ThomasMulcair/status/373513367127719936/photo/1" target="_blank">From Mulcair's Twitter:</a> "With #NDP MP @JeanCrowder and my sister Dr. Deb Mulcair @cowgreencom in Duncan. pic.twitter.com/JWqSe3QlYc"
Best Summer Ever?!
UP NEXT: Canadian Politicians Who Have Tried Pot
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has had his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/rob-ford-marijuana-wynne_n_3831389.html" target="_blank">fair share of marijuana</a>. "Oh, yeah. I've smoked a lot of it."
The federal Liberal leader opened up to HuffPost about his experience with marijuana in August. "Sometimes, I guess, I have gotten a buzz, but other times no. I’m not really crazy about it.”
The Opposition leader's office told HuffPost this summer that Mulcair <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/justin-trudeau-marijuana-peter-mackay_n_3797481.html" target="_blank">has smoked in the past</a> but not since he was elected to office. Mulcair was elected to the National Assembly of Quebec in 1994.
Said the <a href="http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n506/a09.html" target="_blank">Tory finance minister</a>: "Yeah, in my teenage years... a couple of times, I have to admit: I didn’t like it."
The Liberal MP and Canada's first astronaut said he tried marijuana as a <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Politics/Power+%26+Politics/ID/2402495133/" target="_blank">student in the 1970s in England. </a> "It's not my thing. I stopped because it wasn't doing anything for me."
The premier of Ontario said she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/kathleen-wynne-marijuana-pot_n_3830736.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">smoked pot decades ago</a>. "I have smoked marijuana but not for the last 35 years."