Thomas Mulcair's latest effort to demonstrate that his NDP would handle Canada's economy better than Justin Trudeau's Liberals is impeded by the fact some of his own economic polices are still under wraps or have yet to be developed.
Mr. Mulcair, meeting with his caucus in Saskatoon this week, warned middle-income Canadians on Wednesday to ignore Mr. Trudeau's political overtures, saying the policies of past Liberal governments created gross income disparities and left families buried under mounting debt.
The NDP caucus is in Saskatoon to plot strategy for the fall session, and the Liberals, who are enjoying a surge in popular support under Mr. Trudeau, have become a regular focus of attack for Mr. Mulcair. In a campaign-style speech on Wednesday morning, Mr. Mulcair told his MPs that Canada's economy grew by 147 per cent over the past 35 years, while the average Canadian family's income fell by 7 per cent.
"The Liberals may hope that Canadians forget their record, they may hope that enough time has passed," Mr. Mulcair said. "But over those same 35 years, 94 per cent of the income inequality that we've experienced in Canada has happened under Liberal governments, not Conservative."
When asked later how he would address that, Mr. Mulcair was clear about what he would not do: He categorically ruled out raising personal taxes.
"In Canada, now we've got several provinces where we are at 50 per cent," he said, and "contrary to our American neighbours, Canadians actually have very few tax shelters …"
Nor would an NDP government raise the goods and services tax, he said.
He reminded reporters his party has promised to eliminate $50-billion in corporate tax cuts and require Canadian corporations to pay something close to the U.S. rate. His predecessor Jack Layton introduced that policy years ago.
The NDP has a laundry list of things to do with that money should it form the next government. It includes a universal childcare program, equal funding for First Nations education, reversing the Conservatives' plan to raise the age at which Canadians can claim Old Age Security benefits to 67 from 65, tax incentives for job creation, increasing supervision of transportation and the food supply, and lifting poor seniors out of poverty.
"I do have a track record of good public administration," Mr. Mulcair said. "And I have a front bench that's capable of providing really good management for Canada. We'll have the monies to do the types of things we're talking about."
But other elements of the NDP fiscal plan remain unclear. When asked when an NDP government would get around to reducing the federal debt, for instance, Mr. Mulcair had no answer.
"We have, of course, every intention of providing before the next election a fully constituted program," he said. "This fall, we're going to be moving forward, for example, in the area of energy. That's what we started here today. We're going to be proposing those things concretely step by step and this is just the start of it now."
Conservative Labour Minister Kellie Leitch issued a statement on Wednesday saying any NDP economic plan would be "devastating" and increase the cost of living.
New Democrats say they want Canadians to know what they stand for and will be unveiling new policy over the coming months. That contrasts with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulcair said, who "has already advised you that he won't have much to say before the next election."
Releasing elements of a platform before a campaign is risky because it gives the other parties time to find fault with it or adopt its popular elements as their own. And while he can point to the inadequacies of past Liberal governments, Mr. Mulcair cannot boast about successes the NDP have had in power, because it has never won a federal election.
So, while he negatively brands Mr. Trudeau for the actions – or inactions – of his Liberal predecessors, the NDP Leader must point to the track records of New Democratic provincial governments to demonstrate that politicians of his stripe can be good economic managers.
Mr. Mulcair said his efforts would be aided by having his economic policies – when they are eventually rolled out – scrutinized by independent experts.
"My tendency is to say we should be able to get something out there well in advance of the next campaign," he said. "And it's always very helpful when you've got people whose opinion on this is respected saying, 'We've run these numbers, it does look like that, these are plausible scenarios.'"