03/23/2012 06:19 EDT | Updated 05/23/2012 05:12 EDT

NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair takes aim at Harper

The youngest candidate in the race to replace Jack Layton played up her fight for workers in her riding as she pitched herself to New Democrats gathered in Toronto to choose a new leader.

Niki Ashton says she's talked to people across Canada who have been hit by a struggling economy, including cities such as Hamilton, Ont., and Thompson, Man., which lost major employers as companies pulled out, and prairie towns where grain farmers are losing the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board as a purchaser.

It's the result of "years of corporate tax breaks ... unfair free trade deals," and the "erosion of collective bargaining," Ashton said.

The Churchill, Man. MP, said it's time to break Aboriginal Canadians out of poverty and start expanding health care, rather than simply defending it.

The 29-year-old spoke without a podium and with a microphone attached by a headset, giving her little to hide behind as she told New Democrats she’d bring a new kind of politics to Canada.

"Stephen Harper wins in the west because he uses fear and then he takes them for granted," Ashton said.

"Enjoy being prime minister — while it lasts."