Canadians want New Democrats to stand up to the governing Conservatives and they will not be disappointed, Thomas Mulcair said in an address Wednesday that sounded very much like a rehearsal for an election campaign.
The speech, written to mark the first anniversary of the NDP's to the offices of the Official Opposition, gave Mr. Mulcair the chance to tell his MPs they have been part of a serious, organized and strong effort. The Conservatives, meanwhile, are on the defensive, he said.
"Canadians can see the game playing, the secrecy, the equivocation," said Mr. Mulcair. "They see a government plagued by scandal and mismanagement. They see a policy agenda that doesn't begin to understand their priorities."
Stephen Harper, he said, is "a Prime Minister who promises he will never re-open the abortion debate while his party is doing exactly that in the House of Commons, a Prime Minister who says, 'OK, yah, we were $10-billion off on the real cost of those fighter jets but that's just an accounting issue,' a Prime Minister who promised to focus on jobs but is instead, hacking away at our pensions an our health care."
The anniversary of the "breakthrough" election marks the end of the beginning of the new NDP team and also the "beginning of the end of a government that thinks it can ignore the voices of millions," Mr. Mulcair said in his speech, which began with a campaign-style entrance and a video montage of his MPs challenging the government in the House of Commons.
"Canadians are counting on New Democrats to stand up to Stephen Harper," he said, "and we will not let them down."
But, what the New Democrats see as weaknesses, the Conservative government sees as strengths. In his own speech to mark the first year of his majority government, Mr. Harper boasted about the work his party has done to strengthen Old Age Security and health care.
"It is to sustain the welfare and security of future generations that we have placed the two largest items in our government's charge – Old Age Security and health transfers – on a viable basis for a period many decades beyond our own time in office," he said to a loud round of applause from his caucus.
Mr. Harper also talked about his government's success in keeping commitments of the election campaign – especially on the economy.
His address, which took place in the room across the hall of Parliament's Centre Block from the NDP caucus meeting, was less like a stump speech than that of Mr. Mulcair – and more like a blueprint for his government moving forward.
The Prime Minister talked about the need to focus on the future of the Canadian economy and to align the country with economic winners.
"The financial and debt crisis of the past few years may not in many countries be a passing phenomenon," Mr. Harper said. "World economic power and wealth are shifting in a way that is historic and we as Canadians must decide that we will be on the right side of that history."
Bob Rae, the interim Leader of the Liberal party which was reduced to third-place status in the last election, poked fun at the self-congratulatory speeches from both the Prime Minister and Mr. Mulcair.
"These guys primp themselves up, the promote themselves, they repeat the same slogans, we'll hear the same slogans today in Question Period," Mr. Rae told reporters, supporters and members of his caucus. "These two walking bumper stickers will be talking away at each other and I don't believe Canadians believe, frankly, either one. Because I don't believe Canadians believe in this kind of self-promotion."