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A combative Thomas Mulcair promises to fight against the cuts coming in this week's federal budget, saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to abandon the middle class to reward his friends.

In a speech to NDP staff and MPs delivered before a caucus meeting Wednesday, the new Opposition Leader repeatedly accused Mr. Harper of cronyism.

"In this Conservative budget it seems that, once again, the well connected interests with the ear of the government will be the big winners and the middle class will be left out in the cold," he told New Democrats.

"Tomorrow, if Canada sees no action to boost job creation, if pensions and health care are cut and Canadians are left footing the bill," Mr. Mulcair said, "then Mr. Harper, you will have a fight on your hands."

The Conservatives aim to cripple the environmental assessments that protect the air, soil and water, he said. "Stephen Harper's friends will make even more money but future generations will be stuck with the clean-up."

Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, said Thursday's budget will focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

"It is a plan that will benefit all Canadians, and builds on the 610,000 jobs the government has helped to create since July 2009," he said. "The anti-trade, anti-job, anti-growth NDP has voted against every single jobs and growth measure this government has brought forward since the start of the economic downturn. I won't hold my breath waiting for them to finally get behind our jobs and growth plan."

But Mr. Mulcair painted a dark picture of what lies ahead with the government's new economic plan.

Mr. Harper, the NDP Leader charged, is willing to sacrifice the supply management systems that provide food at a cost that is fair and efficient for both producers and consumers. And, he said, the government is threatening health care by cutting billions of dollars in transfers to the provinces.

"This isn't what the Conservatives campaigned on last May," Mr. Mulcair said.

"In December, this government killed the Canadian Wheat Board and now Canada's largest grain handler is in danger of being sold to foreign interests," he said. "Mr. Harper's friends will benefit, family farmers will suffer."

When asked after Question Period how he would reduce the deficit without cutting services or raising taxes, Mr. Mulcair said that the deficit is a false problem created by the government and that the Canadian economy is more than capable of continuing to provide services.

"The problem was created by [the Conservatives]by gutting the fiscal capacity of the government, especially with regard to corporate taxes. That was a monumental error," he replied. "We are complete out of sync with the rest of the OECD countries. That would have put back the fiscal capacity."

Even though NDP MPs have been championing their new chief and making a show of unity, the wounds created by the leadership race will undoubtedly take a while to heal. Mr. Mulcair made a point of praising his challengers for the party's top job, saying they "set the bar for a respectful dynamic leadership campaign to move this country forward."

"On Monday I sat for the first time in the seat that was occupied by our leader Jack Layton and our marvelous friend Nycole Turmel," Mr. Mulcair told his caucus and staff. "Sitting in that chair hardened my resolve to carry on the task at hand, to protect Canadians from Conservative cuts, to take on this Conservative government, to reach out with all of you to those who have been abandoned by Stephen Harper."

After emerging from his own caucus meeting, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae also slammed the Conservatives for what he expects to see in the budget.

Canadians must realize this is a government that cannot even mention the word inequality or the concept of the growing gap between those who have and those who do not, Mr. Rae said.

"They are going to cut environmental regulation, they are going to cut environmental research, they're going to cut services to the public across the board," the Liberal chief added. "Eventually they are going to cut pensions to senior citizens and they're going to clearly, dramatically increase the expenses and costs for the provinces without any additional compensation."