The NDP is stressing the importance of balanced budgets, tax cuts and natural-resource development as the party announced a new star candidate to take on Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver in Toronto.
In an attempt to push back at recent criticism of the party's economic positions, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair delivered a clearly pro-business message in Toronto Friday aimed at persuading Canadians that a New Democratic Party government can manage federal finances.
Mr. Mulcair announced that former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson will be the NDP candidate in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, currently held by Mr. Oliver.
Mr. Oliver responded by warning in a statement that NDP and Liberal policies would lead to deficits and high taxes should either party form government after the Oct. 19 election.
In an interview, the new NDP candidate insists that won't be the case.
"There's no doubt that the first thing that has to be done is to bring the budget back into balance," said Mr. Thomson. "I think this is a debate that will be about what priorities you move to the top and what you move down and that's really what we're trying to work through."
Mr. Thomson was a member of Saskatchewan's Legislative Assembly from 1995 to 2007, and was a member of cabinet from 2001 until 2007, when he left politics and moved to Toronto. He spent three years as a consultant with Cisco Systems Inc., before becoming its director of sales and strategy for international business development focused on the Asia-Pacific region.
During his time as Saskatchewan finance minister under the NDP's then-premier Lorne Calvert, Mr. Thomson released a 2006 budget that was heavy on tax cuts, including cuts to corporate taxes. However, he said Friday that he supports Mr. Mulcair's plan to raise the federal corporate tax rate as part of a "balanced" approach.
The NDP finished a distant third in the riding in 2011, capturing 11.6 per cent of the vote. A stronger NDP candidate could potentially benefit Mr. Oliver if the non-Conservative vote splits between the Liberals and NDP.
An NDP official said the party wants to take the debate over economics directly to Mr. Oliver in an effort to "crystallize" the election as a choice between the Conservatives and the NDP.
Opposition parties are facing difficult decisions in crafting their party platforms, given that the Conservative government left little fiscal room for new spending. Even the small surpluses that Mr. Oliver projected in his April budget are now at risk due to lower-than-expected growth.
That forces the opposition parties to either scale back their wish lists or plan for short-term deficit spending as a form of economic stimulus. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said this week that the party's timeline for balancing the books will depend on the "mess" left by the Conservatives.
The NDP has not yet said whether its platform will be based on balanced budgets in both the short and longer term, but Mr. Mulcair emphasized Mr. Thomson's fiscal record Friday.
"The NDP's Andrew Thomson offers the people of Eglinton-Lawrence something that Joe Oliver hasn't: a record of balanced budgets," Mr. Mulcair said.
Mr. Mulcair's announcement with Mr. Thomson appeared aimed at countering recent suggestions the party would be hostile to natural-resources development, driven in part by comments from another star candidate in Toronto – Linda McQuaig – who said that a lot of the oil-sands oil may have to stay in the ground.
Mr. Thomson described himself during a news conference as "a strong supporter of our resource-based economy" and pointed to his experience as energy minister when oil was $18 a barrel and minister of finance when it was at $80.
The riding recently featured a high-profile battle for the Liberal nomination. Lawyer Marco Mendicino defeated Eve Adams, a former Conservative MP who was attempting to jump from her current riding of Mississauga-Brampton South.
Mr. Mendicino said the NDP should have learned that the riding does not welcome "parachute" candidates who do not live in the riding. Mr. Thomson lives in the downtown riding of Spadina-Fort York, while Mr. Oliver lives in the neighbouring riding of Toronto-St. Paul's.
Mr. Mendicino said the NDP's news conference Friday was at odds with the party's policies.
"Mr. Mulcair bills the new candidate as a corporate, business tax-cutter yet Mr. Mulcair is campaigning on raising corporate taxes, which is yet another example of Mr. Mulcair speaking out of both sides of his mouth," he said.