04/13/2013 11:24 EDT | Updated 06/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Tom Mulcair Criticizes Conservatives, Largely Ignores Liberals At NDP Convention

MONTREAL - Liberals, what Liberals?

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair largely ignored his main competition for progressive votes Saturday, delivering a speech to party members focused on criticism of the Conservatives and how the NDP will defeat them.

"We'll have to work harder than we ever have, and we'll have to work together. But I know we're up to the task," Mulcair told an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 2,000 in Montreal's massive Palais de Congres.

"In the next campaign, Conservatives will face an NDP election machine unlike anything they've ever seen. We're strong we're united and we're determined."

Mulcair hardly mentioned the Liberals _ using the same tactic the Grits used against the NDP during previous elections _ ignoring their existence as he portrayed New Democrats as the only contender for power.

Mulcair's speech at the policy convention went through the contrasts between the NDP and the Tories, painting the election as a clear choice between two parties. Sustainable economic development has become Mulcair's main thrust.

Just prior to his remarks, Mulcair received a 92.3 per cent vote of confidence from party members. Late leader Jack Layton had received 97.9 in the month after the 2011 electoral breakthrough for the NDP.

"It's time to rise above the cynicism that Mr. Harper relies on, and it's time to get our country working again, to make Canada a beacon of economic, environmental and social justice," said Mulcair.

"And to build lasting prosperity, not just for a few of us, but for each and every one of us. You've often heard me say that we'll be judged by what we leave to future generations. And that economic, social and ecological sustainability is the fundamental issue of our time."

Mulcair later got a boost from a top American organizer, former Obama-for-America national field director Jeremy Bird, there to extol the virtues of data analytics and grassroots outreach in campaigns.

Traditionally, Liberals and Democrats have regarded themselves sometimes as cousins, but Bird gave a clear endorsement to the New Democrats — even taking shots at the Tories and Harper.

"I am sure that folks in this room have no doubt that defeating Stephen Harper in 2015 will make people's lives better," Bird said.

"Just like Democrats won in 2012, New Democrats can and will win in 2015."

Former Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau, an observer at the NDP convention, shrugged off Mulcair's positioning.

"I think (Canadians) are going to be tired of the Conservatives by the time that election rolls around, so the question is are they going to turn to the Liberals or are they going to turn to the NDP," said Garneau. "We intend to be the ones they turn to, but we know we have a lot of work to get there."

With an eye on 2015, the party leadership would like to see changes made to some of the party's identifying language. Delegates are considering making the preamble to their constitution more moderate, removing most notably a reference to "social ownership."

Resolutions passed so far on a range of policy fronts have been mild and steered clear of controversy. One that advocated halting the enforcement of certain prostitution laws was punted to a party committee for future study.

Australian Employment Minister Bill Shorten, a member of the Labour government, spoke directly to that internal debate in a rousing midday speech. He quoted former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, who said "only the impotent are pure" in reference to similar divisions in his party in the late 1960s.

"Some of the elements of our party were happier to lose and remain pure than to win and accomplish reform...Sometimes it is easier in our ranks to say we'd rather not win if it involves compromise," said Shorten.

"Sometimes in our movement we are willing to settle for nothing rather than power. The problem is, for millions of working Australians for a generation, they had nothing."

Australian Labour is just one of the successful social democratic parties the NDP is highlighting over the weekend. Delegates are also celebrating the wins that provincial New Democrats have made in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and the good prospects for Adrian Dix in the upcoming British Columbia vote.

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