TORONTO—NDP leader Thomas Mulcair will get his first chance to show how quickly he can marshal the troops on the battlefield when Parliament resumes Monday after March break and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables his budget on Thursday.
Mulcair spoke with reporters at length in Toronto Sunday, pledging a disciplined caucus ready to bring the fight to a well-structured and tough Tory government.
Mulcair is widely seen as a scrapper ready and able to face the government, but doubts remain over his ability to forge the kind of party unity that made Jack Layton such an effective leader.
Among all the contenders for the NDP leadership, Mulcair was unique in coming with a history of political pugilism on par with that dished out by the Tory majority.
But with that comes a reputation for being caustic and combative inside his party as well, traits that can undermine a party leader charged with keeping unity in the caucus.
Conservative attack ads on Liberal interim leader Bob Rae are sure to be joined by attacks on Mulcair, and talking points delivered to journalists as Mulcair’s win was confirmed give a likely preview of what is to come.
“Thomas Mulcair is an opportunist whose high-tax agenda, blind ambition, and divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk,” reads a statement from Conservative spokesperson Fred DeLorey.
“Mulcair has said he would bring back a risky, job-killing carbon tax which would raise the price of everything—even though Canadians overwhelmingly rejected carbon taxes,” it continued.
Harper later congratulated Mulcair from Tokyo where he also announced the launch of free trade negotiations between Canada and Japan.
The NDP say they will define Mulcair themselves with ads meant to pre-empt the inevitable attacks.
The NDP website was immediately rebranded, with Mulcair front and centre and a tagline clarifying any doubts about his intentions: Fighting for your family.
A previous NDP pledge under Layton to eliminate heckling in the House of Commons will likely sunset under the more aggressive Mulcair.
The upcoming budget has promised spending cuts to move the government towards balanced budgets.
The NDP have challenged the government’s spending on prisons and tough-on-crime measures while calling for a cancellation of corporate tax cuts.
It will be Mulcair’s job to bring a coherent offence to the House of Commons and challenge the budget while offering a compelling alternative.
In his comments with reporters, Mulcair affirmed his plans to win over Canadians by providing that alternative.
“You’re going to understand how it’s important for us to be able to project confidence and competence as public administrators,” Mulcair said.
“That’s sometimes what was missing.”