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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair deliver speeches to their respective caucuses in this May 2, 2012 photo combination. (The Canadian Press and Reuters)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair deliver speeches to their respective caucuses in this May 2, 2012 photo combination. (The Canadian Press and Reuters)

Anniversary speeches highlight Harper and Mulcair's contrasting styles Add to ...

A year after Canadian voters radically shook up the composition of the federal House of Commons, the parties that benefitted from the seat realignment are celebrating the anniversary of their success.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, the Leader of the New Democrats, addressed their caucuses on Wednesday morning with speeches crafted to chart the path forward. Mr. Harper was marking the first year of his majority government and Mr. Mulcair was saluting his party’s elevation to the offices of the Official Opposition.

Both men were applauded by their troops. But they had very different messages that were delivered in very different styles.

Stephen Harper

The Man After arriving characteristically late, Mr. Harper settled in to deliver a solid and statesmanlike address. He did not stray into levity. Nor did he attack the opposition. In fact, he generously attributed the magnificence of Canada to “our ancestors of both political stripes.”

It was a staid and somewhat stern performance in which Mr. Harper reminded his MPs that there is much work left to be done.

The Plan Mr. Harper’s address was an attempt to embed in the minds of Canadians that he and his Conservatives have been a credible option for those who are concerned about the global economy and its impact upon their future.

At the same time, he said he is looking forward. Wealth is shifting between countries in a historic fashion, the Prime Minister said, and Canadians “must be on the right side of that history.” The underlying message is that he is thinking about prosperity past the date of the next election.

The Word Sustain. Mr. Harper said his task is to “sustain” the economy of today and tomorrow, to “sustain” the strong labour market, and to “sustain” the welfare and security of future generations.

The Challenge Putting all of a party’s political eggs in the basket of the economy is risky, because economies are by nature unpredictable. In addition, Mr. Harper will have to persuade Canadians to overlook the mounting allegations of ethical violations and cover-ups that have been levelled against his government.

Thomas Mulcair

The Man Mr. Mulcair’s entrance to the Parliament Hill meeting room was very much in the manner of a politician arriving at a campaign event. There were cheers and pauses for glad-handing with his MPs.

Energetic and aggressive, Mr. Mulcair vigorously attacked the Conservative government and Mr. Harper as he promised to lead a party of both opposition and proposition.

The Plan Mr. Mulcair is focused on voter malaise, attempting to spark interest among the large numbers of Canadians who did not vote in the last election. He promised to hold Mr. Harper and his government to account while uniting “progressives of every stripe under the NDP banner.”

The NDP Leader painted the Conservatives as incompetent, indifferent and plagued by scandal. Canadians, he said, “see the game playing, the secrecy, the equivocation.” The aim is to put the government on the defensive in terms of both its record and its policies.

The Word Change. Mr. Mulcair said New Democrats have given Canadians a reason to believe they can vote for “change” and now they must show that they can deliver the “change” they want.

The Challenge The New Democrats are riding high because of the election of their new leader and the myriad problems that have plagued the Conservatives. But the next election is a long way away and much can change between now and 2014.

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