06/16/2015 10:28 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 05:59 EDT

Tom Mulcair says manufacturers will find a partner in NDP

Tom Mulcair reached out to Canada's business community today in an attempt to portray New Democrats as champions of manufacturing and small business with a strong track record of balanced budgets.

Canada's recent economic performance offers reason for concern, Mulcair said in a speech Tuesday to Toronto's Economic Club, but the numbers and trends don't tell the whole story.

Canada's middle class, Mulcair said, is "the best measure of a well-functioning and diversified economy." Middle class families are "working harder, but falling further and further behind."

Mulcair said his government's commitments on child care and post-secondary education and training would boost economic growth.

The NDP leader also outlined the support his party would provide to manufacturers, small businesses and municipalities for infrastructure.

He reminded the audience of his experience as Quebec's environment minister and said he'd learned first-hand about the emerging markets for renewable energy, an area where Canada has lost jobs because it "still lags far behind in investment attractiveness."

He said that when it comes to vital sectors like renewable energy, a government led by him would not "sit there on the sidelines as an uninterested bystander" but would partner with manufacturers at home and work to create export markets abroad.

"I will be that champion," Mulcair said.

Touts track record

Mulcair also reminded the audience that the NDP would cut the small business tax rate to 9 per cent from 11 per cent— something that Stephen Harper's Conservatives first voted against, but then included in the 2015 budget to take effect down the road.

"If [Stephen Harper truly believed in giving you a break, to help you create new jobs, he wouldn't make you wait another three years for it to come into effect," he said.

Recent polls suggest the New Democrats are strong contenders to form a government heading into this fall's election, with Mulcair's personal credibility as leader also on the rise.

While the NDP has governing experience in several provinces, it has never been in government federally. 

"We're under the obligation to show that we're a government in waiting," he told reporters after the speech. "Canadians are now seeing us as that government in waiting.  The reception that we got in that hall today is an indication for us that the message is starting to flow."

Mulcair's spoke of six provincial NDP governments, from Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan on down, noting their success in delivering balanced budgets.

"There was one exception," Mulcair admitted in his speech, speaking about Bob Rae's Ontario government in the nineties. "But he turned out to be a Liberal," he said, referring to the former premier's jump to federal politics in 2006.

Mulcair's speech came as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tried to make a splash of his own, unveiling his 32-point plan for a "fair and open government" with a speech in Ottawa.

Reporters after the Toronto speech peppered Mulcair with questions about not only his speech, but also the Liberal leader's democratic reform proposals.

Mulcair hinted that there's more to come from his party on the economic policy front, including a fully-costed plan for enhancing the Canada Pension Plan.