Tom Mulcair denies an unpopular NDP provincial government is acting like a lead weight on the party's federal election effort in Manitoba.
"We're running across the country an incredibly upbeat, positive campaign about what we can accomplish together, and that's playing out well here as well," he said Thursday in Winnipeg after announcing a plan to boost youth employment.
The federal NDP leader said when Manitobans go to the polls Oct. 19, they are going to think about the type of change they want in Ottawa.
"They know that here in the Prairies and many other parts of the country, the only party that defeats the Conservatives is the NDP," he said.
In an interview with the Free Press, Mulcair vowed to improve federal-provincial relations, hosting two first ministers conferences annually.
"To keep this country vital and alive, we've got to have a habit of talking to each other and working together," he said.
He said the fact Stephen Harper has yet to sit down with all the premiers at once in his 91/2 years as prime minister is "an aberration," flying in the face of the country's traditions.
If elected, he said he would also name a minister of democratic reform to win support for the abolishment of the Senate and to introduce a form of proportional representation in Parliament.
He pledged to publish the costs of his campaign announcements before Thursday's leaders debate on the economy. He challenged his two main rivals to do the same.
While Mulcair has promised to balance the federal government's books in his first budget, Manitoba's NDP government has rung up deficits and missed a self-imposed deadline for getting out of red ink.
When pressed about the Selinger record, he said provinces have "their own particular challenges" and that provincial governments of all political stripes have run deficits. Manitoba can be proud of its low unemployment rate and low car insurance costs here due to public ownership, he said.
Premier Greg Selinger "has fought very hard for Manitoba, but his balance sheet is his balance sheet and mine will be mine," the 60-year-old Quebecer said.
The federal NDP campaign in Manitoba appears to have got off to a slow start. Until recently, it still lacked a candidate in four of the province's 14 ridings. Now, only a spot in Portage-Lisgar remains open, and party officials say that vacancy will be filled soon.
The provincial NDP is well back of the Tories in popular support, while its federal counterpart has been leading most recent national polls — although not within Manitoba.
Mulcair has drafted one of five former cabinet ministers who rebelled against Selinger's leadership last November. Erin Selby is running against Liberal Dan Vandal and Conservative François Catellier in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.
"Erin's addition as a candidate, for me, augurs very well for our chances here in Manitoba," Mulcair said.
Asked whether Selby's candidacy could be divisive within the NDP itself, Mulcair maintained the party is rallying behind her just as it is with all the other federal candidates. He described Selby as an experienced cabinet minister who is well-respected and has deep roots in the community.
The provincial leadership contest is in the past, Mulcair said. "This is the New Democratic Party. We let our members decide these things. It's been decided and now we're all focused on the task at hand, which is to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives... "
The NDP is counting on retaining its two current seats — Winnipeg Centre, held by Pat Martin, and Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, held by Niki Ashton. It's also intent on regaining Elmwood-Transcona and possibly making a breakthrough in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, where it finished a distant third in 2011.
Daniel Blaikie, son of Bill Blaikie, who represented Transcona in Parliament for decades, is carrying the NDP colours in the area this time around. "As far as we're concerned, that one's in the win column," Mulcair said.
"Daniel's one of the best candidates that we've got."
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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