Mulcair rallies NDP to prepare to form government

New Democrat MPs are wrapping up a pre-parliamentary strategy session in St. John's before fanning out to regions crucial to the party's future electoral hopes.

Party leader tells caucus 'now is the time to take the next step'

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is applauded by party supporters after delivering a speech to his caucus at a strategy session in St. John's, N.L., Thursday. (Rob Antle/CBC)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair linked the importance of hard work now to the party’s future electoral fortunes in a speech to his 100-strong caucus Thursday morning.

"Now is the time to take the next step, to gear up for our biggest fight of all," Mulcair told NDP MPs and supporters at a strategy session in St. John’s.

"To show Canadians that we are ready to govern. To take on the Conservatives and unite progressives of every stripe under the NDP banner. Now more than ever, Canadians are counting on us."

Mulcair used the speech to portray his party as a credible choice for government when voters next go to the polls. The next fixed-date election is scheduled for 2015.

"We’re not waiting until 2015 to prove that New Democrats are ready to lead this country," he said.

"That work starts today."

New Democrat MPs are wrapping up a pre-parliamentary strategy session in St. John’s before fanning out to rural regions crucial to the party’s future electoral hopes.

"The NDP wants to be relevant everywhere," St. John’s East MP Jack Harris told reporters Thursday morning.

"We believe we have the capability of forming a government in Canada that’s more reflective of Canadian values."

New push into rural ridings

Harris said the meetings were held in St. John’s to affirm the Atlantic region’s importance to the NDP. "It’s a good place to start," he said.

The New Democrats currently hold just six of the 32 seats in the Atlantic region. Five of those six are grouped in urban enclaves around St. John’s and Halifax.

MPs are set to visit more rural areas for a series of consultations and public meetings.

"Being relevant everywhere is being present everywhere," Harris said.

"It’s kind of a momentum builder, I think, for us. But also a statement — that we’re here to stay, and we’re here to form a government."

St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary, who was first elected in 2011, said the region is fertile ground for the party to win new seats.

He charged that the federal Conservatives have written off Atlantic Canada.

British Columbia MP Peter Julian, who chairs the NDP caucus, said this week's meetings allow the party to hash out strategy for the fall session of Parliament, and discuss what they are hearing in their ridings.

"Getting together at the end of the summer allows us to compare notes, see what Canadians are really raising as concerns, and allows you to form the work for the fall session," Julian said.

Familiar criticisms

In his speech to caucus, Mulcair touched on many familiar NDP criticisms of the Harper Conservatives, from the "botched" F-35 fighter jet procurement progress to transparency and accountability issues.

"I have a message for the prime minister today: Mr. Harper, Canadians are tired of the scandal and mismanagement of your government," Mulcair said.

"And New Democrats are ready to show them that we can do better."

This week’s strategy session marked the first time the NDP has held national caucus meetings in Newfoundland and Labrador.