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Brad Wall could tell Tories what's scary about Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair needn't worry about the picayune Tory attacks on his caucus. But he should worry a lot about Brad Wall.

The attacks can be found on a new Conservative-sponsored website: They feature highly unflattering profiles of the shadow cabinet – accusing MPs of flirting with separatists, supporting higher taxes, opposing free trade.

The worst offender is pensions critic Irene Mathyssen, who was allegedly once a cabinet minister in Bob Rae's government, with all that that entails.

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With these early salvos, the Conservatives are attempting to brand the NDP as the party of separatists and socialists. But most people who voted NDP in the last election voted for Jack Layton, not his team; in the next one they'll vote, or not, for Tom Mulcair. The absence, thus far, of a full frontal Tory assault on the new leader is ... interesting.

While he awaits the deluge, Mr. Mulcair is shaping his own brand. He seeks to present himself as a progressive but responsible alternative to the Conservatives. But his recent comments on what the natural resource sector is doing to the manufacturing sector have upset Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and Mr. Wall is an enemy you don't want to make.

Mr. Mulcair believes that resource-based corporations, especially oil companies, should not be allowed to ship raw product to the United States and elsewhere without being required to process the resource here or to bear the full environmental cost.

Not only does the booming raw-resource sector pollute land and air while failing to create jobs, he believes, it boosts the dollar against other currencies.

"So it has had an effect of hollowing out the manufacturing sector," Mr. Mulcair told reporters Tuesday. "It's demonstrable. It's measurable. And it's been proven."

It has been anything but proven to Mr. Wall. "I don't think it's helpful," he told CTV on Monday, in response to an earlier and similar line of thinking from Mr. Mulcair. "I think it's very divisive, I think it's bad economics, and it begs a lot of questions: Is it going to inform policy from someone who's aspiring to be prime minister of Canada?"

Not only would Mr. Mulcair's policies "take a pipe wrench" to the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies, Mr. Wall observed, it would cut off the flow of equalization funds flowing West to East.

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"When you attack this resource wealth, you are in many ways attacking the formula, the fiscal federalism we have, that helps the different regions of the country when they're going through difficult times," he said.

Mr. Wall is an enormously popular premier. The West is determined to preserve its resource-based wealth. How Mr. Mulcair thinks his comments will help NDP fortunes in Saskatchewan or Manitoba, where the party lost several seats by narrow margins in the last election, is anybody's guess.

It might be worth the price, if the message sold well in Ontario. But Ontario voters are unlikely to buy an argument that says the best way to maintain their jobs is to kill jobs in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

And Mr. Mulcair's call for "a system of green renewable energy across the country" to replace oil and coal, while likely to play well in hydro-dependent Quebec, is unlikely to resonate in Ontario, where similar policies by the Liberal McGuinty government have led to ever-rising energy costs.

If the NDP message doesn't sell in the Prairies or in Ontario, then Mr. Mulcair has little hope of expanding his vote or seat count.

Maybe that's why the Tories haven't released their attack ads. After hearing what Mr. Mulcair has been saying lately, maybe they're rewriting the scripts as we speak.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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