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Thomas Mulcair says an NDP government would diversify the economy by promoting green-energy manufacturing and public transit so that Canada can absorb the shock of falling commodity pricesSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, outlining an economic agenda that he says is both achievable and affordable, says he will personally promote Canadian manufacturers such as Bombardier at international trade shows if he becomes prime minister.

Mr. Mulcair said on Tuesday that an NDP government would diversify the economy by promoting green-energy manufacturing and public transit so that Canada can absorb the shock of falling commodity prices.

He said that if he were prime minister, he would attend international aerospace events in England and Paris to promote Canadian manufacturers. It is unacceptable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not done the same to support Canadian firms such as Bombardier, he said.

"I will be that champion," he said.

Mr. Mulcair told the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto that he can do all this while balancing the books.

While the NDP has never formed government at the federal level, he said provincial NDP governments have a solid track record when it comes to avoiding deficits. "There was one exception – but he turned out to be a Liberal," Mr. Mulcair told the business audience.

The reference was to Ontario's NDP government that held power from 1990 to 1995 under Bob Rae, who later became a senior federal Liberal. The unpopularity of the Rae government has long been an anchor weighing down the NDP in Ontario, a province that will probably play a key role in determining which party forms the federal government in October.

Mr. Mulcair's speech comes as a new opinion poll by the Angus Reid Institute shows the NDP with a clear lead. An online survey of more than 6,000 Canadians found that among those who are likely to vote, 36 per cent support the NDP, 33 per cent support the Conservatives and 23 per cent support the Liberals.

The results represent a 13-per-cent gain since Angus Reid released a similar poll in December. Virtually all of those gains came at the expense of the Liberal Party, while Conservative support has largely remained constant over the past six months.

Other polling firms have shown the NDP with either a slim lead or being close to the lead nationally.

Those results may explain why Mr. Mulcair is focusing his attention lately on business audiences in an attempt to package his party's proposals in a moderate light. On Tuesday, he described his party's plan as achievable, effective and affordable.

The NDP leader delivered a similar speech last week to Montreal's Board of Trade. Neither of the two speeches contained major new announcements. Rather, they represent an attempt to frame various policy plans such as a national daycare program, lower small business taxes and a focus on public transit as part of a cohesive economic agenda.

While Mr. Mulcair's Montreal speech contained a vague reference to his plan to raise the corporate tax rate, that aspect was not part of Tuesday's speech.

The NDP has yet to say how much higher it plans to raise the corporate tax rate, other than to say Canada's rate would remain competitive with other Group of Seven countries.

That international comparison would be based on the combined federal and provincial corporate tax rate. Mr. Mulcair's NDP cousins in Alberta are already moving in this area. Premier Rachel Notley's government confirmed this week in the Speech to the Throne that Alberta will raise its corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 10 per cent.

Higher corporate taxes at the provincial level could leave Mr. Mulcair with less room to raise them at the federal level.

Angus Reid said in a news release on Tuesday that the next four months appears to be shaping up as "the story of a grudge match between the NDP and LPC for many of the same votes."

The polling firm notes that 23 per cent said the NDP would be their second choice, while 21 per cent would choose the Liberals. Conservatives are the second choice of just 7 per cent of decided likely voters.