On a day that resembled an election campaign — the main parties were all on the hustings — Mulcair took his economic vision to the Canada's financial heartland, taking gentle jabs at his main political rivals, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
"I don't believe budgets balance themselves, nor do I believe they become balanced just because you pass a law — zap you're balanced," Mulcair told the Economic Club of Canada.
"But I do believe that it is fundamentally important that the federal government live within its means."
Mulcair talked about NDP icons such as Tommy Douglas, Roy Romanow or former Manitoba premier Gary Doer — provincial leaders who balanced budgets — even as he took a shot at ex-Liberal MP Bob Rae, who racked up a massive deficit in the recession of the early 1990s as the New Democrat premier of Ontario, damaging the party's electoral fortunes in the province for years.
"The federal department of finance's own reports show that NDP governments are the best at balancing the books when in office," Mulcair said.
"There was one exception — but he turned out to be a Liberal."
Mulcair received a few rounds of polite applause as well as a warm standing ovation from the business crowd as he talked about New Democrat election planks — including cutting taxes for small businesses — and tried to stake out ground as champion of a middle class he said is being squeezed.
Harper's job-creation and economic-stimulation plans, Mulcair said, simply aren't working, leaving current generations worse off than their parents for the first time in Canadian history. He accused the prime minister and previous governments of standing idly by as hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappeared.
"It's time that Canada's manufacturers had a partner here at home and a champion on the world stage to attract investment and help create export markets," Mulcair said. "I will be that champion."
While he was vague about how exactly he would boost the manufacturing sector, he did repeat his proposed innovation tax credit to encourage investment in machinery, equipment and property used in research and development.
Most importantly, small businesses with their vital role in communities and job creation need help, he said, in repeating a pledge to cut the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent.
"With this one practical measure, small businesses can better weather the current economic climate, hire more employees and help their local communities prosper for years to come," Mulcair said.
The Conservatives, he said, voted against the tax-cutting motion in the Commons then adopted it in their budget.
Mulcair also promised an NDP government would help municipalities beef up public transit and fight gridlock, pledging to give them one cent a litre from the existing gas tax, and ultimately earmarking another $1.5 billion annually by the end of its first mandate for local governments.
In Ottawa, Trudeau put forward a democratic reform package that included a promise to change Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system — which Mulcair said was really a crib from his party's playbook, while Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced new legislation to crack down on drunk driving.