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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks during the Saskatchewan NDP leadership convention in Saskatoon, Sask., March 9, 2013.

Liam Richards/The Canadian Press

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Thomas Mulcair's speech Wednesday to the Woodrow Wilson Center stresses the ties between New Democrats and President Barack Obama. Americans in the audience might be bemused by the comparison. But like almost all foreign speeches by Canadian politicians, the real audience is back home.

The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition wants to reassure both American observers and Canadian voters that an NDP government could be trusted to protect and advance the Canadian economy while preserving ties to this nation's allies.

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This is always a tough sell for the NDP. But Mr. Mulcair has a trump card rarely if ever given to an opposition leader: His party's strong emphasis on fighting climate change by making industry pay for the costs of pollution closely mirrors the President's State of the Union address.

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Obama are closer to each other in an area of vital importance than either is to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This is a sweet spot and Mr. Mulcair appears to have found it.

The Conservatives rebut that the New Democratic leader should be pushing the President to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf. But Mr. Mulcair's determination to remain neutral in what is, in the end, an American decision is both appropriate and restrained for an opposition leader.

The speech is a welcome opportunity for Mr. Mulcair to get back in the public eye. He has been crowded out of the conversation recently, thanks to the all-consuming Liberal leadership campaign of Justin Trudeau.

But NDP strategists remain quietly confident that the political fundamentals still favour the NDP.

Mr. Mulcair is a seasoned politician, with experience as a cabinet minister in the Quebec government as well as leader of the official opposition. Mr. Trudeau's resumé as a teacher, pugilist and backbencher is comparatively thin.

In the contest for Quebec, the NDP has both the advantage of incumbency – 57 MPs – and a record of limited opposition to the Clarity Act, which is as unpopular inside Quebec as it is popular outside it. While his insistence that a yes vote of 50 per cent plus one is sufficient for victory in a referendum on independence may have cost Mr. Mulcair support – and an MP – in the short term, it could redound to his advantage in Quebec come the 2015 vote.

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Outside Quebec, both the Conservatives and the NDP seek to polarize the debate over the economy along centre-right and centre-left lines. In that debate, the Liberals have as yet failed to convincingly stake out any turf.

NDP strategists predict that Mr. Trudeau will continue to soar in the polls until after the leadership race. But by Christmas, once Mr. Trudeau has gone a few rounds with both Stephen Harper and Mr. Mulcair, they expect to see the NDP solidly in second place once again.

We won't know if they're right until presents are under the tree. Compared to the Liberals, however, the New Democrats have superior organization, clearer policies and a more seasoned leader.

Those are the fundamentals. And in politics, the fundamentals are everything.

John Ibbitson is The Globe and Mail's chief political writer in Ottawa.

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