HALIFAX — Tom Mulcair shored up NDP support Wednesday in Nova Scotia, where at least one of his three incumbents in the Halifax area is locked in a tough fight ahead of the Oct. 19 vote.
The NDP leader was in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, a riding won by Robert Chisholm in the last election, and in some respects a perfect representation of the conundrum facing the party that seems in the waning days of the campaign to be fighting for respect as much as electoral success.
The fact Mulcair was here in the last five days of the campaign speaks volumes about the NDP mindset at this point, as does a growing frustration among party members with the national media, which in their view is too focused on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.
One irritated member of the rank and file interrupted a reporter's question on Wednesday, prompting party officials afterward to promise that scrums with Mulcair would for the remainder be held away from partisans.
Mulcair, for his part, continued to deliver an upbeat message.
"I share optimism and confidence with the people I meet across the country," he said. "Whatever the polls have shown, I've said the same thing. For the first time in Canadian history, we have a three-way race."
Chisholm is one of those incumbents that NDP strategists would like to tout as the bedrock of their argument that they are the shortest path to defeating Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
A popular, respected former provincial NDP leader and labour organizer, he was elected in 2011, ousting Liberal MP Mike Savage by around 500 votes. Chisholm is telegenic, has community name recognition, and even a low-flying national profile following a brief run at the NDP leadership in 2012.
Most importantly, in the minds of party strategists, he has "incumbency advantage" and has done nothing egregious to have himself tossed out. The Green party has put up its provincial leader to face Chisholm. The Conservatives have a pastor and local businessman.
Considered a rising star, Chisholm rode the Jack Layton tide four years ago, yet finds himself mostly swimming against the Trudeau surge this time around in the face of Liberal candidate Darren Fisher.
The NDP likes to portray this election as a fight between them and the Conservatives, marginalizing the Liberals. But this riding upends that narrative and may well be the most cogent snapshot of the electoral battle New Democrats are facing.
It is all going to come down to ground war on election day, Mulcair suggested.
"The NDP is the Official Opposition for the first time. We are in the three-way race and for the next five days quality candidates and MPs like Joanne Hussey, like Robert Chisholm, like Peter Stoffer, like Megan Leslie, are going to be working in their ridings to make sure that on Oct. 19 we elect the first NDP government in Canadian history."
Chisholm said the message on the doorstep has been encouraging, but he acknowledged it's been a tough campaign. Unlike in 2011, he hasn't had to contend with an unpopular NDP provincial government, which many pundits — at the time — suggested was responsible for his tight margin of victory.
Later in the day, Mulcair was off to campaign in Quebec, a province that gave the New Democrats 59 seats in 2011 and helped elevate his party to Official Opposition status for the first time.
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