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Yvon Godin is the NDP Member of Parliament for Acadie–Bathurst. This is a response to John Ibbitson's feature "How Harper created a more conservative Canada."

No small differences. 2015 will be an election that matters.

It's become a familiar refrain from pundits over the last few years that federal parties, rather than proudly carrying their own colours, are offering Canadians different shades of grey.

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Gone are the days of the great debates, they say. There's been a "narrowing of differences." The opposition now challenges the Conservatives only "at the margins." Canadians have come to accept Stephen Harper's vision for a more conservative country, we're told.

Hogwash. Most Canadians are still far from enamoured with the Harper government. More voters think the Conservatives are headed in the wrong direction than on the right track. The Prime Minister's approval rating has been in negative territory for more than four years.

And despite what the talking heads might tell you, this October, Canadians will have a clear choice.

The Liberals have blown a double-digit lead in just the last few months and it's true that in the face of these falling poll numbers, Justin Trudeau has spent the last few weeks chasing Conservative policies on everything from crime to climate change. He's given his full support to Mr. Harper on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and the new terror bill which most observers believe goes too far. He's apparently chasing Conservatives MPs, too.

But while Liberals have been busy trolling for votes on the right, Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have started rolling out their platform for the 2015 campaign – a year in advance. Mr. Mulcair has spent the last few weeks positioning the NDP as the party with a practical plan for a strong and growing middle-class – in sharp contrast to Mr. Harper's Conservatives.

The NDP's strategy goes something like this:

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper are each presenting Canadians with a clear choice – about our values and about what kind of country we want to be.

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While Mr. Harper has proposed another round of tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 per cent, Mr. Mulcair has proposed a plan for quality, affordable childcare that will cost families no more than $15-a-day. Where Conservatives have allowed fast-food chains like McDonalds to pay temporary foreign workers 15 per cent less than Canadian workers, the NDP has proposed a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. These are very different 15's in 2015.

While Mr. Harper makes it harder for Canadians to retire, Mr. Mulcair plans to roll back OAS eligibility to 65 years. While Mr. Harper plans to cut health-care transfers to the provinces, Mr. Mulcair defends our universal health care as a core value.

Mr. Harper has given a blank cheque to the oil and gas industry, he's ignored every other sector of our economy and put us all at the mercy of falling oil prices. He's heaped tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks on the boardroom tables of the most profitable corporations – even as small businesses have struggled and hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

For his part, Mr. Trudeau has endorsed Mr. Harper's corporate tax giveaways and thrown in the towel on fighting climate change – saying it should be left up to the provinces to put a price on carbon.

In contrast to both Mr. Harper and the Liberals, Mr. Mulcair has put forward a practical plan to grow our economy while protecting our environment – proposing the first steps in "The NDP's Plan for Middle-Class Jobs."

Mr. Mulcair wants to reduce taxes for small businesses – not just the biggest, most-profitable corporations. He wants to jumpstart manufacturing by helping companies invest in new equipment. And Mr. Mulcair wants to build a more balanced, sustainable economy by ending subsidies to oil companies and making polluters pay for the pollution they create.

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Can anyone say this is the stuff of small differences?

As New Democrats and Conservatives lay out their plan for the country – and Liberals do not – the next election really is shaping up to be a clear choice: progressive, regressive or non-existent.

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