12/03/2013 08:38 EST | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 EST

NDP's Tom Mulcair to make energy policy power play

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will tell a luncheon audience in Ottawa Wednesday that a New Democrat cabinet would abandon the power to overturn decisions by the National Energy Board on projects such as pipelines, party officials say.

Mulcair is set to announce the NDP will make sweeping changes to the environmental assessment rules for major energy projects if the party forms the government after the next election.

Environmental assessments have undergone dramatic changes in recent years by the Conservative government. Those changes include a requirement to submit all future NEB decisions on major pipeline projects to cabinet for approval. Ministers can directly overturn decisions made by the NEB after months of hearings.

An NDP government would give the NEB more independence by restoring its final say on environmental assessments, NDP officials said.

The policy proposals are an attempt to starkly contrast Mulcair’s vision of energy development with that of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who both broadly support pipeline development and more specifically the Keystone XL pipeline.

Mulcair will tell his audience that he wants the basis of NDP energy policy to be about “sustainability partnerships” based on working with both the provinces and First Nations.

The proposals represent the first new policy initiative for Mulcair in several months and they would come almost two years before the next election is scheduled. That would make his pitch a target for critics among the governing Conservatives, as well as rival Liberals.

A spate of recent polls suggest the NDP has lost significant ground to the Liberals since Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party earlier this year.

Mulcair to outline cap and trade plan

Mulcair is against the Keystone XL pipeline, but supports the idea of a pipeline running from west to east to refine oil within Canada.

The NDP leader's first foray into energy policy was not a success. Mulcair was heavily criticized for suggesting Canada was suffering from Dutch disease: the theory that oil exports raise the value of the Canadian dollar, which in turns hurts the economy in the rest of the country. He has since abandoned that language.

Mulcair will also announce plans to improve the current standards for transporting hazardous goods through railways, pipelines and tankers.

And he will promise to introduce a new homeowner energy retrofit program. The energy retrofit program was first introduced in 2007 and subsequently renewed owing to its huge popularity.

The program encouraged homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient by conducting an energy audit in return for a federal grant. But the Conservative government cancelled the program two months ahead of schedule in 2012.

Mulcair will also begin to outline his plans for a cap and trade program to control greenhouse gas emissions and how the program could be implemented.

NDP officials said the announcements tomorrow will not be costed until closer to the election campaign.