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The opposition New Democrats are huddling in Ottawa this week to plot strategy for the next sitting of the House of Commons and to figure out the political moves that will turn voter attention their way.

Peter Julian, the NDP caucus chair, says that he and his colleagues have been hearing over the Christmas break from constituents concerned about issues ranging from the costs associated with living in Canada to transportation safety to the Senate scandal that has dogged Prime Minister Stephen Harper since last May.

And because 2015 is an election year – and a vote could come even sooner – Mr. Julian said preparations must be ramped up.

So those are items that will be on the table Thursday and Friday when New Democrats meet in Ottawa to prepare for the sitting that starts Jan. 27, he said. Here is a preview of what they will discuss.



This week’s strategy session will mark the start of a major campaign around affordability issues, Mr. Julian said.

People across the country are saying their real incomes are being squeezed, he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair will embark upon a cross-country tour, starting next week in Ontario and Western Canada, to talk about how much people are paying for the basics.

“I think that’s what people want to hear from federal politicians,” Mr. Julian said, “really substantive solutions to the challenges that they are facing right now in their families and their homes.”


Transportation safety

The train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., horrified Canadians and focused national attention on rail safety.

“Transport safety is something that’s come up in my riding and we’ll be talking over the next couple of days with folks across the country to see if they are hearing the same things,” Mr. Julian said.

This is an issue that the New Democrats can use to highlight broader deficiencies in Conservative policy, he said.

The NDP hopes to convince Canadians that their safety is being eroded in a number of different ways because of the decisions taken by Mr. Harper and his government.


The Senate scandal

Mr. Julian said his constituents continue to register their anger over the improper expense claims by senators and the payment that suspended senator Mike Duffy received from Nigel Wright, Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff.

“People are even more incensed, I think, than they were earlier in the fall and they are demanding answers to the kind of questions Tom Mulcair is asking in the House of Commons,” he said.

Mr. Mulcair will have to continue that work when Parliament resumes “to get to the bottom of the issue,” Mr. Julian said.


Election preparedness

The reality is that federal political parties are moving into a pre-election period in 2014, Mr. Julian said. “So part of what we will be doing at the caucus strategy session is talking about election preparedness.”

For instance, New Democrat MPs will receive a briefing this week from Jeremy Bird, the national field director for the 2012 re-election campaign of President Barack Obama.

Election preparedness will be discussed as a part of the larger task of addressing issues that are important to Canadians – “to make sure that, whenever the elections comes, whether it’s late in 2014 or in 2015, that we’ll be ready,” Mr. Julian said.