OTTAWA — Here are five keys to success in Thursday's leaders' debate for NDP Leader Tom Mulcair:
1. Look prime ministerial.
Mulcair, whom recent polls suggest is the current front-runner, has earned high praise for his performance in the House of Commons but the leaders debate is a completely different form of political theatre. NDP insiders say he won't try to emulate his prosecutorial question-period style, however. Debate coach Shakir Rahim says Mulcair needs to focus on conveying an image that allows viewers to see him as prime ministerial.
2. Land some blows on Stephen Harper.
One of the biggest challenges for Mulcair will be to score a political hit on the prime minister, a very experienced debater and a fierce political opponent. In previous election debates, Harper maintained quiet body language and delivered a key message on how Conservatives would manage the economy. But there's an opening for Mulcair, as well as others: Harper is vulnerable on the economic file, given that the Canadian economy has contracted in the first quarter of 2015.
3. Present concrete plans.
In addition to trying to trip up Harper during the course of the debate, Mulcair will have to present concrete examples to show how an NDP government would differ from its predecessor. The Conservatives have already said they will push their rivals for platform details; Mulcair needs to demonstrate to viewers that he has a viable, credible plan in order to be seen as a legitimate alternative.
4. Stand out from Justin Trudeau.
Mulcair has hardly made mention of Trudeau on the campaign trail, choosing instead to focus on Harper. During the leaders' debate, Mulcair won't be able to avoid the Liberal leader. Trudeau is an experienced public speaker with a theatre background, someone who is no stranger to the limelight and comfortable under public scrutiny.
5. Stay calm.
Mulcair is often called "Angry Tom" on Parliament Hill because of his strong personality and reputation for what he himself describes as a "good Irish temper." He knows how to poke fun at himself — he dressed up as an Angry Bird at Halloween — but he can reasonably expect his opponents to poke and prod him in hopes of provoking an outburst unbecoming of a would-be prime minister.
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