Mulcair asserts party's progressive credentials at home, abroad

Fred Chartrand/CP

OTTAWA – NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will be trying to position himself at home and abroad this week as Canada’s only authentic progressive option, as Liberals vote for their next leader and frontrunner Justin Trudeau continues to stake his ground.

Mulcair will first flaunt his title as Leader of the Opposition on Thursday at the Progressive Governance conference in Copenhagen, a meeting of the world’s centre-left political movements.

Then he’ll be back in Canada, overseeing his party’s policy convention next weekend in Montreal. The fact it’s happening at the same time as the new Liberal leader will be announced doesn’t seem to faze Mulcair, who says several thousand members will be at the event.

“People in the NDP are very excited,” Mulcair said in an interview. “This is our time. Now, after 50 years of hard work, we’re poised to form a government for the first time and people are energized about that, they’re excited about it.”

The Progressive Governance conference beforehand is being touted as a bit of coup by the NDP, who note it was Liberals who used to be invited as marquee speakers. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was one of the highlighted invitees at the 2008 conference, but since then Canadians have been thin on the agenda.

Mulcair will speak at a panel discussion Thursday that includes American, Swedish, Danish and British politicians and strategists, discussing how social democrats can find their post-recession footing.

European social democratic parties in particular have fallen on hard electoral times since the crash of 2008, but Mulcair says the public must understand the austerity being pushed by right-of-centre parties has not brought the economies back to life.

“What we’re seeing now for the first time is the middle class actually starting to slip back. We’re seeing a huge ecological, economic and social debt being left on the backs of future generations,” Mulcair said.

“I like to summarize it like this: the essence of social democracy has always been the fight to remove inequalities in our society. The biggest inequality we’re going to have fight to overcome now is the inequality between generations.”

That’s the same kind of language being used by Liberal leadership frontrunner Justin Trudeau, who in a speech on Saturday outlined his intention to appeal to Canada’s middle class — accusing Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of focusing on the fringes of Canadian society.

Mulcair’s response is to suggest the Liberals are only progressive when it’s politically expedient, and that the NDP will actually deliver on what it promises.

“We are about getting results. For the first time in Canadian history, people will be able to vote for the change they want and actually get it,” Mulcair said.

“We’ve seen that sort of disappointment in the past with some of the governments.”

Mulcair says some of the issues discussed in Copenhagen tie in with the issues New Democrats will discuss at their policy convention, namely that boosting job growth and the economy can be done in tandem with rebuilding the social safety net.

If people are hoping for a few swipes at Trudeau or any other Liberal contender, Mulcair says they’ll be disappointed — at least for now.

Trudeau said last week that Mulcair crossed a line when he went to Washington and criticized Canada’s environmental record, and shared doubts about the XL Keystone pipeline project.

“I didn’t appreciate it when I was going through my leadership last year when Stephen Harper stuck his nose in our leadership campaign,” said Mulcair.

“I didn’t find it appropriate and even though I intend to form a government, which means we’ll go up against the Liberals and defeat them as much as we’re going to defeat the Conservatives, we know there’s still a lot of work to do for everyone.”

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