P.E.I.'s NDP can expect help from the federal party to build new support, says federal leader Tom Mulcair.

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Tom Mulcair will speak at the P.E.I. NDP leadership convention and at a fundraising dinner in Charlottetown on Saturday. (CP)

Mulcair, who will be in Charlottetown for the provincial party's leadership convention this weekend, told CBC News Thursday he believes Islanders are ready to join the Orange Wave that swept the country in the last federal election.

"Generally speaking, in Atlantic Canada, we've seen an alternation between the Liberals and the Conservatives. A lot of people are tired of that," he said.

"They figure that more likely we're alternating between Liberal patronage and Conservative patronage and people deserve better. They want another option. Generally speaking, we're quite convinced that a lot of people in P.E.I. are open to the NDP message."

The NDP has not had a lot of electoral success on P.E.I. Provincially, there has only ever been one MLA, elected to a West Prince district in 1996, and federally the best it has ever done is a second place finish in the old riding of Hillsborough in 1997.

The party is looking to change that trend starting with its leadership convention this weekend. It features Trevor Leclerc, who stepped down as chair of AIDS PEI to run for the leadership, and Mike Redmond, facility director at the Murphy's Community Centre in Charlottetown. It hopes the presence of Mulcair, who will speak at the convention and at a fundraising dinner Saturday night, will jump start a new era for the party.

'We're also going to learn how to do really good fundraising there.'— Tom Mulcair

"We're working hard with the provincial party, and the investment is going to be in terms of human resources, information resources and eventually financial resources," said Mulcair.

"But we're also going to learn how to do really good fundraising there. This weekend's events are going to show that. That there's a viable option in the NDP on Prince Edward Island."

As of Thursday afternoon, 160 tickets had been sold for the fundraising dinner at a price of $150 each.

Mulcair said a recent byelection in the riding of Rothesay, N.B. shows the kind of rapid growth in support that is possible in Atlantic Canada. The NDP vote grew 20 percentage points over the last election.

Advice on Trans-Canada Highway project

Mulcair was not ready to express an opinion on a controversial project to realign the Trans-Canada Highway west of Charlottetown.

'If you don't build strong support for that sort of project … you're always going to wind up with social conflict.' — Tom Mulcair

Protestors, complaining the new highway is unnecessary and harmful to the environment, have been on the site and slowing work since construction got underway last Thursday.

While not ready to take a position, Mulcair said it is clear that not enough was done to sell the project to the public.

"Whenever you have an important development project like that one, a strong support from the milieu is essential. And the only way to build that is from the bottom up," he said.

"People have to start understanding that you can no longer force projects, large development projects from the top down. That's a basic principle of sustainable development. That's the approach we're always going to take. There will be diverging views. But if you don't build strong support for that sort of project, if somebody from another place simply is going to try to dictate where things are going to go, you're always going to wind up with social conflict. "

Mulcair, who arrives on P.E.I. Friday, said he will be getting further information from local NDP members about the development project while he is on the Island.

Mulcair will also be meeting with Premier Robert Ghiz Saturday. The Trans-Canada Highway project isn't currently on the agenda. Mulcair says the meeting is to offer Ghiz any help the province needs on federal files.

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