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Campaign has already started: Mulcair

OTTAWA - NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is muscling in on the same electoral turf that Justin Trudeau has staked out for the Liberals: middle class families.

He embarked Friday on a campaign to persuade people that the NDP is the only party that understands the challenges faced by average folks and that is devoted to making life more affordable for them.

"We're going to protect consumers. We're going to stand up for families," Mulcair told New Democrat MPs gathered to plot strategy for the Jan. 27 resumption of Parliament.

"And we're going to stand up for all Canadians."

Mulcair announced he'll start a nationwide tour next week to meet Canadians at home and in their communities and discuss ways to tackle "staggering bills and skyrocketing household debt."

That will be followed in the spring by a national consultation with small and medium-sized business owners, aimed at finding ways to help them grow and create "good, middle-class jobs right here in Canada."

By contrast, Mulcair accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of telling Canadians: "You're on your own, get used to it."

"In Mr. Harper's Canada, a well-connected few get ahead while everyone else gets left behind."

And, notwithstanding Trudeau's declared priority of improving the lot of middle class families, Mulcair said the Liberal record in government shows they're no better.

Over the last 35 years, he said income has grown for the top 20 per cent of income earners while it's shrunk for the remaining 80 per cent. And 94 per cent of the growth in income inequality occurred while the Liberals were in power, he added.

The only time Liberal governments took action to remedy the problem was when they were forced to do so by the NDP, Mulcair said. He reminded his MPs that late NDP leader Jack Layton forced Paul Martin's teetering Liberal minority government to cancel $4.6 billion in planned corporate tax cuts and invest instead in affordable housing, public transit and student debt.

"Those were our priorities. That's where we put the money," Mulcair said.

"We know who we are. We know who the Liberals are. Don't ever forget it."

Under a fixed-date election law introduced by the Harper government, the next election is scheduled for October 2015. However, both the NDP and Liberals suspect Harper may ignore the law, as he's done before, to go to the polls earlier.

Mulcair made it clear the NDP isn't waiting for the writ to be issued, declaring that the campaign has already begun and that his party has its slogan set to go.

"From students to seniors, from First Nations to recent arrivals, New Democrats are taking a simple message from coast to coast to coast in the next election: 'the NDP is on your side'."

Mulcair won plaudits during the spring and fall sittings of Parliament for his relentless, prosecutorial grilling of Harper on the Senate expenses scandal. But Trudeau, who spent most of his time stumping the country, seemed to be the chief beneficiary of voter disenchantment with the government.

Mulcair said he won't let up on the Senate scandal but has evidently decided he needs to spend more time on the road as well.

His consumer protection tour is aimed at demonstrating the NDP understands what Mulcair called "the changing face of struggling families in Canada" — where both parents have "low-wage, very precarious and almost always part time jobs ... without any real opportunity to get ahead."

These families can't afford increased hydro bills or getting "nickled and dimed" by automated bank machines or paying "usurious" interest rates on payday loans or getting dinged $2 just to get a paper version of a bill, Mulcair said, promising to offer "concrete solutions."

While the government promised a consumer-first agenda in last fall's throne speech, Mulcair said it hasn't delivered.

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