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Mulcair hits the road to give NDP's political machine a test-drive

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair greets supporters in Sudbury on July 31, 2013.

The NDP will test its campaign machine with a high-tempo tour in August that will put rookie leader Thomas Mulcair and his team through quasi-electoral paces, party officials say.

Mr. Mulcair said he will promote the NDP's proposal to abolish the Senate during the tour, and wants to see his team try out its political skills on the road. The last five days of August will include more than a dozen stops between Halifax and Vancouver Island.

"There will be a rather intense week at the end, which is like sending the whole team to the gym," Mr. Mulcair, who became party leader last year, said in an interview. "It's like training … where we will be going morning, noon and night."

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Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau has already started engaging the public with events in the West, drawing crowds and garnering headlines over his enthusiastic support for legalizing marijuana. The Liberals and the NDP are fighting for the votes of Canadians who want a change of government in the 2015 general election, and summer tours are a classic opportunity for political leaders to meet potential supporters in informal settings.

But Mr. Mulcair hopes to strike a more serious tone on the road, coming off a strong performance in Parliament in which he hammered the government on the Senate spending scandal.

"[Mr. Trudeau] has been talking a lot about wanting to do BBQs, but I didn't wait for the summer, I've been grilling [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper all session during the spring," Mr. Mulcair said.

The NDP Leader was in Northern Ontario this week, where he continued a listening tour in which he is meeting with native leaders across the country. Along with his wife, Catherine Pinhas, Mr. Mulcair will visit Tofino, B.C., on the weekend to meet Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Mr. Mulcair and Ms. Pinhas will also participate in Vancouver Pride.

Mr. Mulcair will head east next week, with stops in St. John's for the annual regatta, and in Prince Edward Island, where he will aim to give a second wind to the NDP campaign to abolish the Senate. "We'll do a bit of door to door, find out where Mike Duffy lives," Mr. Mulcair said of the controversial senator.

Mr. Mulcair is hoping that Senate abolitionists will unite under the NDP slogan "roll up the red carpet." The NDP knows it would be hard to enact such a radical change, which requires a constitutional amendment, but the party is optimistic that it can start shaping a consensus around the proposal.

Mr. Mulcair has talked about Senate abolition with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, and he plans to raise the topic with premiers in PEI, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, where the NDP will hold a caucus meeting in early September.

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"From everything I'm getting across Canada, people are very receptive to the idea of abolition simpliciter," he said, using a Latin term meaning pure and simple. "That will continue to be our position, but we will continue to meet people to try and see what refinements, if any, should be brought to that."

Mr. Mulcair said he will also deal with issues such as the environment in meetings with non-governmental organizations during his Canadian travels.

In addition, he will go to Chicago in midmonth, building on recent trips to Paris, Copenhagen and Washington. In Europe, Mr. Mulcair met the French Prime Minister and engaged with social-democrats to learn from their experiences in power.

Mr. Mulcair added that the tempo will be even faster during his tour of Canada next summer, when the general election will be nearly a year away. Mr. Mulcair was a key player in recent elections in Quebec for the NDP, and he won three times at the provincial level, but the 2015 ballot will be his first as a party leader.

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