Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mulcair plans to woo Liberal voters

Leader promises competent team to 'progressives'

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TORONTO -- Freshly crowned NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair moved quickly Sunday to embark on a mission to convince Liberal voters and other "progressive" Canadians that they can place their trust in his party in the next federal election.

He vowed to build a "structured" Opposition party, armed with strong research with which to criticize the governing Tories.

In the coming months, he said the NDP will experience a "cascading transition" -- with no housecleaning of staff, but an eventual shuffling of the party's leading MPs to showcase their strengths as critics in the House of Commons.

By the time of the next election, Mulcair said his party will have improved its public reputation.

"It's important for us to be able to project confidence and competence as public administrators. That's sometimes what was missing," he told a news conference.

"One of the elements that we're going to have to work on is to make sure that people realize the NDP is formed by a team of women and men capable of providing good, competent, solid public administration."

"Sometimes people have hesitated on that account," said the Montreal MP, formerly a Quebec Liberal cabinet minister before running federally for the New Democrats.

"They've always liked our ideas, but sometimes they've hesitated. Most Canadians do, in fact, share the ideas, the goals, the vision of the NDP. But now we've got to reach out."

Mulcair met with his parliamentary caucus the morning after a historic four-ballot convention that chose him as leader over six rivals.

He assured his party there will be a smooth transition.

At a news conference, Mulcair spoke candidly on a range of topics -- such as the Tories' attacks on his character, Quebec sovereignty and public cynicism about politics.

He said he is intent on broadening his party's public appeal in coming years so it can defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives in 2015.

For decades, with its focus as a social democratic party, the NDP has scared off left-wing voters who felt more comfortable with the economic policies of the Liberals.

But now, with the New Democrats as official Opposition and the Liberals facing an uncertain future, Mulcair said Canadians will increasingly see a team of impressive MPs and election candidates.

Mulcair said when he was first elected to the Commons in a Montreal riding in 2007, he appealed to voters who felt they had been "taken for granted" by the Liberals. He said that same appeal will now be launched nationwide, arguing that Canadians will face a stark choice in the next election over whether to give Harper another mandate to dismantle everything from medicare to the Canadian Wheat Board.

"We're facing a government that's very tough, very well-structured, and we've got to do the same thing."

"We've got to structure an official Opposition that will bring the fight to them like they have never seen before."

Mulcair won the NDP leadership Saturday after a seven-month race that finished when he won 57.2 per cent on the final ballot -- beating his closest rival, former party president Brian Topp.

Mulcair's opponents released media "talking points," with the Liberals suggesting he was a threat to national unity, and the Conservatives describing him as an "opportunist" with a high-tax agenda.

The Tories are expected to produce hard-edged TV ads that attack Mulcair's record and his character -- just as they did for Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and more recently, Bob Rae.


-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2012 A5

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