UPTON, Que. — With the shadow of a massive and controversial trade deal looming over the campaign trail, Tom Mulcair visited a farm Saturday to press his contention that only a New Democrat government would stick up for Quebec's dairy farmers.
At a dairy farm in Upton, Que., east of Montreal, Mulcair denounced Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership in secret and promised to stand up for farmers and auto workers — the two sectors most worried about the would-be deal.
"Quebecers have a clear choice in this election: An NDP government that will take a strong stand in support of family farms and the dairy industry or a Conservative government that won't," Mulcair said, iconic Holstein cattle on display in the background.
An NDP government would refuse to ratify the TPP, which hasn't been negotiated in good faith, the NDP leader repeated.
"Quebecers can trust an NDP government will protect the rich heritage of Quebec's dairy industry, which has supported rural communities for generations."
Hours earlier in Montreal, Harper insisted Canada would only sign a deal that was in the country's best interests, noting it would also have to be ratified by Parliament. Harper also promised to release details of the pact, but Mulcair was skeptical.
Harper has previously indicated the trade agreement could cause the auto industry some pain.
Mulcair, who has hammered the theme of job losses throughout the campaign, returned to the topic Saturday, saying 30,000 family farms and 400,000 good manufacturing jobs have disappeared on Harper's watch.
To stress that point, Mulcair was headed after the farm visit to Conservative strongholds in the so-called 905 region of southwestern Ontario, where he was expected to make a six-riding blitz on Sunday. The area has been hit by the decline in manufacturing, especially in the important auto industry.
The NDP's electoral fortunes rest heavily on maintaining the kind of surge in Quebec that propelled the party to official Opposition status in 2011.
However, polls suggest Quebecers are less enthralled with Mulcair this time around, in part because of his view that women should be allowed to wear veils at citizenship ceremonies.
The farm visit came in the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, which the New Democrats took from the Bloc Quebecois in the last vote as part of the "orange crush."
However, the incumbent is not running this time, putting the riding into play for the Bloc, which under Gilles Duceppe is trying to regain the seats it lost in 2011.
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