09/10/2013 07:31 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 08:15 EDT

NDP Caucus Retreat: MPs Told To Build Up Roots In Ridings To Win Power In 2015


SASKATOON — NDP MPs will be lectured Tuesday on the importance of building roots in their riding if they want to keep their jobs and elect an NDP government — or at the very least survive a potential Liberal sweep.

MPs attending the New Democrats' federal caucus meeting in Saskatoon held the party line Monday, telling reporters they are were not worried by strong Liberal support in the polls.

If the Liberal numbers were this high next year, Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer told The Huffington Post Canada, he might be worried, but for now, he's not concerned.

Scarborough, Ont., MP Dan Harris said poll numbers always make politicians a little bit itchy, but the election is still two years away.

"People are going to talk, and the Liberal numbers are up, but this time last year, our numbers were way up and the Liberals were way down, so time changes things," he said.

Still, Harris acknowledged that Canadians are not warming up to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair the same way they seem to flock to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

"We don’t have that star power of Justin Trudeau and the name. But Mr. Mulcair, every time he goes and meets with people, he just floors them with how personable he is and how good a connection he makes. So we just collectively have to do a good job of making sure that we get him in front of enough people so that he can make those connections so we can win the next election campaign," Harris said.

Of course, that is what Liberal MPs used to say of Michael Ignatieff, their own former leader, who also had trouble at the polls.

Despite the NDP earning the status of official Opposition in 2011, Harris said many people still perceive the Liberals as the natural governing party.

"That is scary and that is dangerous," he said, "but we really can’t hold to that. And we just have to push forward and keep making sure that we are in the right position."

Part of making sure that the NDP can hold on to the 100 seats it has in the House of Commons is ensuring that its MPs are strong constituency representatives.

Stoffer, a 16-year veteran, said MPs will be asked Tuesday at their national caucus meeting whether they have done their fundraising, whether their riding associations are strongly in place, whether their membership drives are successful, whether they are holding local events and whether they are knocking on doors.

The majority of MPs are doing what they need to do, party sources say. As one person noted, earning $160,000 a year is good motivation for any MP to keep going.

Tuesday, some of the party's senior MPs will be sharing tips with their junior colleagues. Stoffer, who won his first election by 41 votes, encourages MPs to form personal connections with voters and not to ignore constituents who voice concerns that are really only municipal or provincial. They should be told how to get the answers they need and asked to let their MP know how it went, he said.

Sudbury's Glenn Thibeault said he will be sharing tips about some of the things he does to entrench himself in the community. He holds temporary passport clinics at the mall, where he said he can meet up to 1,200 people in two or three days.

Thibeault knows the importance of keeping his profile up. His principal challenger from the last election, Conservative candidate Fred Slade, continues to attend local events and has even kept his campaign office open, Thibeault said.

Even if a party's leader is not that popular, individual MPs need to be, the NDP MP said.

"It's establishing your brand, and then establishing the party's brand at the same time," Thibeault said. "Keep your nose to the grindstone, keep working your constituency and, you know what, things may turn around for us."

The strategy, of course, is not foolproof. Toronto MP Peggy Nash, who lost her seat in 2008 only to win again in 2011, said she does not feel she worked any less or knocked on fewer doors when she suffered defeat.

"I worked equally hard, so I know it’s no guarantee of success," she told HuffPost.

Still, Harris, who ran four times before winning on his fifth try in 2011, said he is not taking his re-election for granted. He knocked on some 5,000 doors this summer and has been going through his riding street by street, asking constituents what they want to see from the federal government and what they want to see from him.

"I am making sure that I am getting my name and face out there, so that, whatever happens, my riding is hopefully safe."

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