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New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair is shown during Question Period on Jan. 26, 2015.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The federal New Democrats have fired the latest round in the battle for middle-class voters with promises of breaks for corporations and small businesses that they say will create jobs and diversify the economy.

In a speech to the Economic Club of Canada on Tuesday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair released three key components of the platform he will peddle to Canadians during an election campaign later this year. All of them are designed to help the manufacturing sector and, by extension, middle-income earners.

"These practical steps are just the beginning of what we can do right away to get the economy and the middle class on track," Mr. Mulcair explained.

If New Democrats formed the next government, he said, they would extend, for two years, the accelerated capital-cost allowance, which allows businesses to quickly write off the cost of processing equipment and machinery.

They would also introduce an innovation tax credit to encourage investments in machinery, equipment and property that is used in research and development, Mr. Mulcair said.

And they would cut the small-business tax rate, currently 11 per cent, to 10 and then 9 per cent.

"With this one practical measure, small businesses can better weather the current economic climate, hire more employees and help their local communities prosper for years to come," Mr. Mulcair told the business lunch crowd.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly accused the NDP, which has based the accounting of previous election campaigns on the promise to increase the corporate tax rate, of inconsistency.

The NDP is out of touch with economic reality, Mr. Harper said Tuesday during Question Period, "which perhaps explains today the Leader's attempts to flip-flop and do a deathbed conversion toward lower taxes for business."

In fact, cutting the small-business tax rate is not a new idea for the New Democrats. Former leader Jack Layton said in 2011 that, if elected, he would cut the rate to 9 per cent.

Mr. Layton also directed much of his message to middle-class voters. But in the precampaign for the 2015 election, the middle class has become an obsession of all political parties.

"I believe that the best measure of a well-functioning, diversified economy is the strength of the middle class," Mr. Mulcair said during his luncheon speech. "But the reality is, in 2015, middle-class families are working harder, while falling further and further behind."

At a partisan rally in Ottawa on Monday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau targeted the same demographics, but also called for a federal government that focused on the economic needs of all parts of the country.

"Yes, we need a strong West, but we also need a strong East, a strong North and a strong Centre. Most of all, we need a strong middle class," he said.

Then there was Industry Minister James Moore, who rose in the Commons on Tuesday to say the Conservative government has "done more than anybody else" to support the middle class.

But what is this middle class that has become the fixation of federal politicians? There is no simple definition and, in practical terms, it means almost all Canadians.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP finance critic, says his party considers the middle class to be the middle three quintiles of the population when measured by wealth.

But the reality, Mr. Cullen said, "is that 80 per cent of Canadians see themselves in the middle class – and that's both those that are earning money that many of us would say is beyond middle-class stature, and those earning less who see themselves and want to be in the middle class."

With a report from Daniel Leblanc