With one week to go before the election, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said "nothing" about his first national campaign has surprised him — even the contentious issue of the niqab.
"I knew that Stephen Harper had been planning to play identity politics … so I decoded right away that this was going to be an ugly campaign. I saw that coming," Mulcair told CBC News Network's Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton in an interview airing Sunday.
"[Harper] has been putting the race card on the table in this campaign," he added.
The niqab has dominated political debate in the last few weeks of the campaign. The Federal Court of Appeal last month struck down a 2011 Conservative ban on wearing the Muslim veil while taking the citizenship oath.
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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said his party will examine a wider ban on the niqab for federal public servants, in line with proposed Quebec legislation the federal Conservatives have publicly supported in the past.
"I think it is a made-up issue, with respect to Mr. Harper saying this week that he was going to ban the face covering in the federal civil service," Mulcair said.
He also dismissed the proposed bill put forth by Quebec's Liberal government, telling Barton: "I don't see what that has to do with this federal campaign."
"I have confidence that in their heart of hearts, Quebecers know that being good to each other and respectful of each others' differences, whether it be religious, cultural or linguistic, is the proper way to build for the future," he said.
"The courts have ruled in this case and once the courts have ruled, it's no longer a question of what you like or what you don't like," he added.
"I understand it's sensitive. I understand people find it surprising and it makes them uncomfortable. But the courts have ruled."
Balanced budget commitment
The NDP's decision to promise four years of balanced budgets if elected stemmed from his own position on fiscal management, Mulcair said.
"When I explained my position to the party — that we have to be good, prudent public administrators if we aspire to form government — the party and the membership agreed with me," Mulcair said in the interview.
Balancing the budget is something he has "always believed in," Mulcair added.
"I don't believe that we can do these things on the backs of future generations," he said. "As a social democrat, the number one thing I have to do, I firmly believe, is to reduce inequality in our society and at the same time create opportunity."
'A better deal'
Mulcair also doubled down on his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
"We're against Mr. Harper's negotiated TPP. We would never bring that one to Parliament, we'll try to get a better deal," he said.
Mulcair dismissed concerns that raising corporate taxes for big businesses from 15 per cent to 17 — an NDP election promise — could exacerbate "tens of thousands" of job losses he has said could come about as a result of the TPP.
"There's no credible evidence of that," he said. "We've lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs under Mr. Harper. If corporate tax reductions were going to be good for jobs, we wouldn't have lost [those] jobs."
Raising corporate taxes while lowering personal taxes remains a commitment of the New Democrats in contrast to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, he said.
"Mr. Trudeau is proposing personal tax increases. I am opposed to raising personal income taxes in Canada, firmly opposed to it, and I believe that tax breaks to Canada's wealthiest corporations are what we should be going after."
Trudeau has promised a Liberal government will raise personal income taxes on individual incomes over $200,000 a year while at the same time reducing rates for middle income earners.
No co-operation with Liberals
Mulcair continued to highlight the differences between himself and Trudeau throughout the interview.
"Only the NDP is offering real change," he said, adding that he doesn't see working with the Liberals in a potential future coalition as realistic.
For Trudeau's part, the Liberal leader has flatly ruled out a formal Liberal-NDP coalition if no party has a majority after the Oct. 19 vote.
Mulcair said his own efforts to reach out to Trudeau have been rejected.
"Every time I've opened the door to co-operation, Mr. Trudeau takes it upon himself to personally slam that door shut, not just close it," he told Barton.
But Mulcair said he has one person in mind in the week ahead.
"I'll tell you this straight up — my priority is to get rid of Stephen Harper," he said.