Politics

Tom Mulcair to venture out of the House in a bid to raise profile

There is a quiet frustration inside the NDP as it holds its national caucus meeting this week in Edmonton. Leader Tom Mulcair is seen as a proven parliamentary performer who is strong on policy. So how can the party get Justin Trudeau and the Liberals out of the headlines?

NDP caucus meets in Edmonton this week to plan fall strategy - and steal attention from Trudeau

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has won praise for his strong performance in the Commons over the past year -- but expect see more of him outside the House this fall in a bid to raise his visibility with Canadians. Mulcair and NDP MPs are in Edmonton for meetings this week. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

There is a quiet frustration inside the NDP.

Many in the party would say their leader has political experience, proven parliamentary performance and a propensity to talk intelligently about policy.

And yet, it doesn't seem to be enough.

Time and again, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau just has more luck claiming headlines than the leader of the Official Opposition, Tom Mulcair.

So — when the NDP caucus meets in Edmonton this week, for what could very well be its last caucus meeting outside of the nation's capital before an election slated for the fall of 2015 or sooner — the conversation will also be about what more can be done.

They already have some ideas about how to get out in front of the Liberals and better define themselves in relation to Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and the results of some of those ideas will start to appear in the coming weeks.

First, put policy in the window.

The party will start showing Canadians what will be on offer from the NDP in the next election in hopes Canadians will start comparing parties.

Expect talk of childcare, increasing corporate taxes to pay for some of their policies and implementing a federal minimum wage.

NDPers want to make the conversation about substance in the hope that Canadians will notice when others back away from it.

Second, get their guy out in front of Canadians.

Less time in the House, more on the road

Mulcair has managed to show his political chops inside the House of Commons during question period, particularly during the Senate scandal last year. This has meant a fair amount of positive media coverage for the leader, but that hasn't necessarily translated into familiarity or popularity with Canadians.

Meeting highlights

NDP MPs are meeting for three days of strategy sessions in Edmonton. Here are some public events:

Tuesday:

Arrivals and caucus dinner

Wednesday:

Mulcair talks to media, 1 p.m. MT, 3 p.m. ET

Guest speaker Oilers captain Andrew Ference, 1:45 p.m. MT, 3:45 p.m. ET

Thursday:

Leader's address, 9 a.m. MT, 11 a.m. ET

So, this fall, Mulcair will be slightly less present in Ottawa. He will still be there if the prime minister attends, as Stephen Harper's primary foil. But if Harper is off on an international junket, Mulcair will hit the road too, much as he has done this summer.

Sources say Mulcair will seldom be in Quebec, where his profile is high due to his past in provincial politics and where his party is doing fairly well. Instead, he will concentrate his efforts in and around Toronto, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, all places the NDP hopes to improve its fortunes in the next election.

And Mulcair will try and tap into regional media, where he may indeed get better play than he does nationally.

So, while the summer may have left some NDPers privately frustrated, there is a plan going forward.

There will be more talk of the team behind Mulcair, there will be star candidates announced in the coming months and a full roster of candidates by the end of the year.                                                                  

The NDP's caucus co-chair, Glenn Thibeault, said morale in the caucus is optimistic and everyone realizes "nothing is ever handed to us easily."

And on that point, the party needs no further lessons.

About the Author

Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.

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