Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Mulcair still a work in progress

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NDP leader Thomas Mulcair's "affordability tour" rolled into Winnipeg this week with a pretty good basket of political issues that will resonate with Canadians, even if most of them are warmed-over promises from past campaigns.

Mr. Mulcair is targetting oil firms, banks, payday loan companies and credit card rates, which he says are gouging ordinary Canadians and saddling them with enormous household debt.

The Opposition leader is not the first politician to cite these issues -- the Conservatives promised to hold parliamentary hearings on gas prices a few years ago -- but populist ideas never go out of vogue.

These are natural issues for the New Democrats, but they are also particularly useful at a time when the party is third in polls behind the Conservatives and Liberals under the charismatic Justin Trudeau.

In an editorial board meeting with the Free Press on Wednesday Mr. Mulcair made a point of saying Mr. Trudeau has yet to provide a detailed outline of his policies.

The Liberal leader's popularity, which at this point seems to be based entirely on personality, must be an enormous source of frustration for Mr. Mulcair, who has decades of political experience and who has shown himself to be an effective performer in Parliament.

If life is unfair, however, politics is even more so. With most of his MPs coming from Quebec, Mr. Mulcair is looking for ways to connect with Ontarians and Western Canadians, the focus of his present tour.

The problem with good ideas, however, is they can be lifted and improved by other political parties. Depending on how the winds blow between now and the next election in 2015, Mr. Mulcair may well find that both the Conservatives and the Liberals have their own consumer issues on the table.

Mr. Mulcair's challenge isn't convincing Canadians he's got their priorities right, it's showing them he's also a likable guy who can connect with ordinary people. On that front, Mr. Mulcair is still a work in progress.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2014 A12

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