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lawrence martin

No one talks about the possibility of the working-class party forming the next government. The NDP has never reached the top. It's regarded as the stuff of pipe dreams. Prior to the last election, no one talked about it becoming the Official Opposition. It never had reached that perch either – until that election campaign played out.

To take the historic next step, the New Democrats don't need the great gains they made in that 2011 campaign. They need only about 20 more seats from their current 95. That would give them 115 which conceivably could be enough to form a slim minority.

Brad Lavigne, who served as principal secretary to the late Jack Layton, was one of the architects of the remarkable – some would call it flukey – 2011 surge. He left the orange wave team, but NDP leader Thomas Mulcair recently brought him back to be his senior campaign adviser.

During a 90-minute discussion, Mr. Lavigne spent most of the time targeting the Liberals, dismissively referring to them as "the third party," the designation his own flock laboured under so long. He left the impression that NDP guns will be concentrated less on the Conservatives than Justin Trudeau, who will be painted as a naive, inexperienced candidate of non-change. All this could suit Stephen Harper very nicely. A dogfight among progressives! Bring it on.

The NDP strategist was enthused about internal polling – all parties tend to boast about their internal polling – showing an 11-point lead over the third party on matters related to standing up for Mr. and Mrs. Mainstreet.

Call it working class or middle class, it is all the NDP cares about. "Every one of our policies will be seen through that lens," said Mr. Lavigne. "Tom Mulcair is going to hammer that home. If it's good for the middle class, it's an NDP policy."

In policy terms, this means a big child-care program, keeping the retirement age at 65 for benefits, hiking the minimum wage in areas where possible. Over the next few months, said Mr. Lavigne, the party will bring on new job creation plans, more measures to combat climate change, plans to restore democracy to a system overrun by one-man rule.

Internal polling shows that Mr. Mulcair is least known among the leaders, but Mr. Lavigne sees this as "a wonderful opportunity." When voters get to know him, they'll know where he is coming from. The Prime Minister is a career politician, he noted, while Justin Trudeau was brought up "rubbing shoulders with kings and queens." And so "you contrast our leader's value set. He is the second oldest of 10 kids. He didn't have a trust fund left to him. His family pursued the middle class dream in Canada."

There's that and there's his long years of experience – and there will be a campaign based on hope not fear.

Mr. Lavigne sees the NDP vote as being committed while "the third party vote is very loose. Blow a little and the whole thing falls over."

The strategist talks a good game. I remind him his party is almost 10 points down in the polls since the last election and is falling in Quebec. An Ekos survey, for example, shows a close four-party fight in the province. That would mean the NDP, which won 59 seats in Quebec in the last election, could lose a whopping 20-30 of them in that province alone. So long pipe dream.

The Lavigne response? "Polls don't forecast an outcome." The last election result told him that. But can the New Democrats pull off two electoral shocks in a row? Their optimism lies in the belief that the Liberals are riding high on a celebrity name alone, that their support will collapse in the campaign and that the vote for change will coalesce under the NDP banner.

Blow a little and the whole Trudeau edifice falls over. If it happens, the chance of the working-class party winning government is within reach.

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