It's 10 on a Sunday morning in a gravel parking lot in Waterloo, Ont., and Thomas Mulcair is on a riser, microphone in hand, sounding for all the world like a revivalist preacher denouncing the evils of an international trade deal he had yet to see.
"We're sending a strong message for change in Ottawa," he shouts to a crowd of a couple of hundred NDP supporters, many of them waving the orange Stop Harper signs that have been handed out by the people running the NDP Leader's tour. "You know that there's only one team that will stand up for you. We will fight Stephen Harper. We will fight for your family farms. We will fight for your manufacturing jobs. That's what this election is about."
At least one other election was fought over a trade agreement, in 1988, and Mr. Mulcair is signalling that the final two weeks of this campaign will be – for him, at least – all about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is his best option for delineating the differences between the New Democrats and the other two major parties and for getting his NDP back into a race that seems to be slipping away.
The NDP Leader is taking a hard left turn in policy to keep his party competitive while the front-runners are still in sight.
While Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau held a massive rally outside Toronto on Sunday, the NDP Leader was visiting six different communities in Southwestern Ontario over 14 hours, promising that he would not be bound by a deal on the TPP and suggesting that there is little light between the policies of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Harper.
"You know that Stephen Harper has already lost 400,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs while he was prime minister," he tells the faithful who have turned out to see him in Waterloo. "But now he's willing to trade away in secret bargaining talks in Atlanta tens of thousands of more manufacturing jobs."
While it is true that many voters want to change the government in Ottawa, it has been Mr. Mulcair's job to convince them that the New Democrats are best positioned to shove the Conservatives from office.
He spent the first nine weeks of the extended election campaign peddling a plan that, at times, seemed more centrist than the one being proffered by Mr. Trudeau – one that would defer spending on child care, infrastructure and other election promises until those big-ticket items can be purchased with cash, not debt.
But the centrist approach has not been working.. The latest numbers from Nanos Research suggest that the race to form the next government, which just two weeks ago was a three-way tie, has broken open, with the Liberals vaulting to the head of the pack and the New Democrats now trailing in the distance.
On Sunday, Mr. Mulcair's mission was not to persuade voters who are undecided to vote NDP. The people who greeted him were orange-wearing New Democrats. He urged them to phone their friends and to volunteer their time to get every possible NDP voter to the ballot box.
When his tour pulled up to its designated whistle stop in Stratford, Liberals were piling into a school bus across the street to travel for two hours to hear Mr. Trudeau speak in Brampton.
The NDP Leader did his best to be energetic and enthusiastic when addressing the crowds of supporters. His team members shouted "wow" when a couple of hundred people were waiting for him in Essex, just outside Windsor.
"Think of the farming families," he exhorted his supporters. "We will fight Stephen Harper, we will fight for your family farms, we will fight for your manufacturing jobs."
But Mr. Mulcair's real target in taking on Mr. Harper seemed to be Mr. Trudeau.
"We've not only got to stop Harper, we've got to stop Harperism, which is what's been practised and proposed by the Liberals," he said at one stop.
"The Liberals will always promise the moon. They're experts at flashing left, then turning right. That causes accidents with the electorate," he said at another.
This is the third major tour Mr. Mulcair has done of Southwestern Ontario since July, when the New Democrats were the party to beat and the Liberals were running in third place. The NDP had high hopes of making gains in what is mostly Conservative territory.
But the surge in Liberal popularity across Ontario has made the Liberals competitive in the same ridings that Mr. Mulcair and his officials were eyeing. And Conservative support does not appear to have significantly diminished, making gains for the NDP in this region a tall order.
The New Democrats who are helping on the ground say they are not concerned by the polls.
"It doesn't worry me at all," said Steve Saysell in Stratford. "I think that, on the 19th, that's the only poll that really matters and I think people are going to walk into that ballot box and they are going to know exactly what changes need to come and that there is only one party that will do that."
Mr. Mulcair is the only one who speaks to everyday people, and only the NDP will fight the TPP, Mr. Saysell said.
So, some NDP supporters, at least, believe in Mr. Mulcair's message. But can he convince many other centre- and left-leaning voters over the next two weeks?
"You're going to have a party that stands before you and says we're going to do a certain number of things in the interest of your family," the NDP Leader told the crowd in London. "We're going to stand up straight and say why our farming families need to be defended."