OTTAWA — NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair tried to position himself Wednesday as the best agent for change.
“After 10 long years of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, Canadians are ready for change,” Mulcair declared to a cheering crowd of more than 730 people assembled at an Ottawa convention hall.
Behind a lectern sign that read “Ready for Change,” the NDP leader painted himself as the best defender of the middle class.
One day earlier and across the street, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had positioned himself behind a lectern that said “Real Change” and promised to establish a more democratic government and end excessive partisanship.
Both the Liberals and NDP are trying to court voters who have had enough of the Conservative government. Public opinion surveys suggest approximately 60 per cent of voters want change.
So who is best placed to deliver it?
Wednesday’s rally, Mulcair senior campaign advisor Brad Lavigne said, was about speaking to people who want change and inviting them to be a part of it.
“The campaign is about change. It’s about which leader has the experience and the plan to repair the damage that Stephen Harper has done [and] help middle class families get ahead,” he told The Huffington Post Canada.
Trudeau told his supporters in an email that his 32-point plan to “restore democracy in Canada” is about bringing real, meaningful and authentic change.
“From more open, citizen-centred government to evidence- and science-based decision making, to fairer elections and giving your community its voice back in Ottawa, REAL CHANGE is a roadmap to counter a decade of Conservative secrecy, unprecedented concentration of power and negative political tactics,” Trudeau wrote.
His principal advisor, Gerald Butts, said Trudeau represents a new generation of Canadian leadership.
“[He has] a new plan for Canada. He wants to work with the provinces to grow the economy and protect the environment. That's real change,” Butts said. “Mr Mulcair's top priority is to bog the country down in the constitutional squabbles of the 1990s, when he entered politics. Those are failed policies from the past."
Mulcair has been criticized for wanting to reopen the Constitution in order to abolish the Senate.
Lavigne told HuffPost he wouldn’t comment on the Liberals’ tactics. With successive public opinion polls suggesting that the NDP are in first place nationally, and the Liberals in third, the New Democrats are feeling the momentum.
“People are in a pretty good mood these days,” Mulcair’s spokesman, Karl Bélanger, succinctly put it.
Diane Freeman, a city councillor in Waterloo, Ont., who is running for the NDP, said people in her community want change in Parliament.
“More and more people who have never voted NDP in the past are impressed with our leader, Tom Mulcair,” Freeman said when introducing Mulcair at the rally. She described the NDP leader as experienced and principled, and pointed to his stand on Bill C-51.
“It is a failure of leadership to say that you oppose Bill C-51, and then support it only because you are afraid Stephen Harper will criticize you for it,” she said, referring to Trudeau’s conditional support for the Tories’ new anti-terrorism measures.
“[It] is just one example of why I and thousands of other former Liberals across Canada have a home in Tom Mulcair’s NDP,” Freeman said.
New Democrats who attended Wednesday’s rally in Ottawa — no surprise here — also thought their leader would best deliver that change agenda.
NDP MP Pat Martin told HuffPost he thought Mulcair could sell the message of change best because Liberals couldn’t be trusted to government from the left.
“You have to judge people by what they do and not what they say,” Martin said. “When the Liberals are in power, they act like a bunch of neo-conservatives. I mean Liberal, Tory, same old story.”
Elaine MacDonald, a city councillor from Cornwall, Ont., told HuffPost she had come to the rally to support Mulcair because she felt he was the “most credible leader right now” with the best grasp of the problems that face Canadians and the solutions needed.
Shamsher Gill, the political editor for the Punjab Star, a community newspaper in Mississauga, Ont., said that after 12 years of Liberal governments and 10 years of Harper, the NDP deserves a chance.
“He’s never been given a chance. You cannot just say no, without giving a chance to it. When you look at the policies, it seems real,” Gill said.
Mulcair seems more authentic when compared with Trudeau, he said, adding that he thinks the Liberal leader is too wet behind the ears. “Trudeau just stepped in to use his father’s name…. He is very immature.”
Brett Evans, the president of a customs and immigration union in Nova Scotia who was in Ottawa for labour negotiations with the federal government, said he is a former federal Progressive Conservative who turned to the NDP.
He said he supports Mulcair over Trudeau because of C-51.
“I work in the law enforcement field and I was disappointed that Justin Trudeau supported Bill C-51. I was totally disappointed,” he told HuffPost. “Thomas Mulcair is best representing the practical change that is being put on the table for me right now.”
Mulcair didn’t announce any new policies on Wednesday. He simply restated planks of his election platform, such as:
- Reversing the changes to the age of eligibility for OAS, moving it back to 65 from 67;
- Creating one million new childcare spaces, costing15 a day to attend;
- Restoring a federal minimum wage of15 an hour;
- Eliminating the Conservatives’ income splitting scheme;
- Closing stock-option tax loopholes and using the money towards poverty reduction. The NDP estimates that would be worth about1 billion a year.
- Dropping the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent.
- Increasing the gas tax transfer by1.5 billion annually by the end of a four-year term to invest in infrastructure.
- Creating a new public transit strategy with the provinces and territories that could be worth1.3 billion over 20 years.
Mulcair said his proposals would put an extra 31,000 people back to work in manufacturing and transit operations.
“It’s our moment,” Mulcair declared. “We will defeat Stephen Harper and build the Canada of our dreams.”
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