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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair addresses the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday morning, Aug. 20, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair addresses the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday morning, Aug. 20, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

LAWRENCE MARTIN

How Mulcair plans to overtake the Boy Wonder Add to ...

“I know the type of society I want to live in,” NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair opined in the course of an interview. “And it’s not the same one we’ve been bouncing back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives for the last 150 years.”

As declarations go, this one can hardly be said to be lacking in sweep. A century and a half is a lot of history to reproach. “I don’t accept that 800,000 Canadian kids go to school every morning without having eaten,” the Opposition Leader continued. “I don’t accept that hundreds of thousands of seniors live in deep poverty. I don’t accept Third World living conditions on our reserves.”

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Mr. Mulcair was responding to a question about his party’s standing in the opinion polls. Boy Wonder and his Liberals have been cleaning his clock. What was he going to do about it between now and the election?

In a nutshell, he said he will convince Canadians that he, not Justin Trudeau, is the genuine progressive leader Canada needs. Over the next year, he will be trying to make this clear on a wide range of key issues – on health care, child care, sustainable development, the plight of First Nations, the environment, poverty.

Contrasting himself with the Liberal Leader on resource development, he said: “Every single progressive in North America is opposed to Keystone XL. Justin Trudeau cannot call himself a progressive for backing that project. Period. Full stop.”

The NDP will be rolling out a national child-care program, which, Mr. Mulcair says, will outdo anything the Trudeau Grits offer. “I think it’s a national tragedy that in a country as rich as Canada’s, we’re doing nothing.”

Along with the progressive pitch, he signalled what he feels will be another big selling point for him: leadership fibre. “People are going to look at me and say, ‘This guy’s a fighter!’”

That is how he intends to counter the age disadvantage. He comes across in many ways as old-school. People looking for change don’t want old-school. As countless polls demonstrate, they are looking to a guy almost 20 years younger with a legendary political name.

Mr. Mulcair chuckled about the age thing. “I’m very proud of it. In a few weeks, I’ll be 60. I don’t hide from it.”

The important consideration, he said, is which leader has shown more strength in standing up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper? Who, he asked, has put in more hours both on the road and in the House of Commons?

Boy Wonder will offer image, Mr. Mulcair said, while he will offer toughness and deep experience, not only as a politician but a public administrator as well.

When he demands to see investor-state provisions of the Canadian-European trade deal, it’s because, having taken on Dow Chemical on pesticides as Quebec’s environment minister, “I know what it means as a state to be told that you no longer have the sovereignty to make decisions based on the health of your population.”

As for Mr. Trudeau, “he stood up in the House and applauded Mr. Harper for a trade deal he has yet to read,” the NDP Leader said.

Mr. Mulcair has been caught up in an ethics imbroglio as his party is accused of misusing office space and House of Commons funds for partisan advantage. He flatly rejects the allegation as one put up by a kangaroo court, whereas, he said, a real court convicted a Conservative operative on robocalls this month. But with ethics having become such a high-profile issue (in Alberta, Toronto, Ottawa), the story doesn’t help his party’s image.

His plan to change 150 years of history does not include a sweeping democratic reform package that could attract a lot of attention.

The NDP’s fall, in tandem with the big Liberal rise, is primarily the result, Mr. Muclair analyzed, of atavism – the inclination to revert to a way of the past. But he is confident that the atavistic appeal of Mr. Trudeau won’t last. A year from now, he said, “people aren’t going to be voting in a popularity contest.”

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