NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair fired up a full house of about 1,200 supporters at a rally in Victoria Saturday, before heading up Island to continue his campaign.
He told cheering crowds with orange “STOP HARPER” signs at the Victoria Conference Centre’s Crystal Garden, that the NDP is going to paint Vancouver Island orange from Victoria to Port Hardy.
His message also had a warning: “But let there be no doubt, Conservatives can win seats on Vancouver Island.”
The NDP is third in the polls and up against the increasing popularity of the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals on a national level, and the competitiveness of the Conservatives and Greens on Vancouver Island.
Here, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is expected to hold her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding and, with candidate Jo-Ann Roberts, has set her party’s sites on winning Victoria from NDP incumbent Murray Rankin.
The Conservatives won two Island seats in the 2011 election and are targeting the newly created riding of Cowichan-Malahat-Langford — where Conservative Martin Barker is running — for a third.
The Liberals have pegged Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke candidate David Merner as their greatest hope on the Island, touting him to defeat NDP incumbent Randall Garrison.
Mulcair, bolstered by local federal NDP candidates and provincial NDP MLAs at Saturday afternoon’s rally, deflected questions about competition on Vancouver Island.
“Our No. 1 priority is to defeat and replace Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and start to repair the damage that he has done and that’s the only thing I’m concentrating on between now and Oct. 19,” Mulcair said.
Buoyed by news from Elections Canada that the opening day of advance polls on Friday saw a 26 per cent increase in voter turnout, compared with opening day in 2011, Mulcair said it’s a sign the NDP will get out its vote.
“For me, that’s a harbinger of change, people want real change in Ottawa, the advance polls reflect that,” Mulcair told supporters.
Mulcair is using the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal signed by the Conservative government, while not being rejected in principle by the Liberals, as the latest example of how the NDP is a clear contrast to the Conservatives.
“I’ll never bring this deal to the Canadian Parliament because it’s a bad deal for Canadian jobs, it’s a bad deal for the environment, it’s a bad deal for Canadian privacy rights,” Mulcair said in an interview.
Mulcair is telling undecided, left-leaning and the so-called Anything But Conservatives camps that the Liberals need another 100 members of Parliament to form a minority government.
“All we need is 35 more seats to defeat Stephen Harper.”
His pitch is based on assumptions that include an extremely close three-way race, the NDP holding onto most of its current 103 seats and winning at least 35 of its targeted-to-win 45 seats.
With 338 seats in the next House of Commons, a party would need 170 seats to form a majority government.
If the vote were held today, based on aggregated poll results, the Liberals are projected to win 131 seats, the NDP 80, the Conservatives 122 and the Greens one seat, according to ThreeHundredEight.com founder Éric Grenier’s online polltracker.
“I remember those same polls 10 days out from the 2011 election that showed us in fourth place in Quebec and we won 59 seats,” Mulcair said when asked about being ranked third.
Asked about the expected tight race between Rankin, an environmental lawyer, and Roberts, Mulcair said: “I think people understand that keeping someone of the quality and calibre of Murray Rankin, when we form government, is going to be a tremendous thing not only for Victoria, but for all of Canada.”
Rankin has risen to the portfolio of health critic.
“I can tell you Murray Rankin is going to be playing a key role in an NDP government,” Mulcair said. “He is one of my most trusted confidants, advisers and, frankly, a brilliant and experienced individual.”
The NDP released its Building the Country of Our Dreams platform Friday. Its top issues remain delivering quality $15-a-day childcare, reforming the voting system, protecting the environment, creating jobs and bolstering healthcare.
The platform talks about working with the Liberals to prevent a Conservative government but the leader won’t say the word “coalition.”
Mulcair travelled to Duncan Saturday evening. Today, he’s scheduled to host a rally at 10:30 a.m. at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo, and another rally at 2:30 p.m. at the K’omoks First Nation Band Hall in Courtenay, which includes part of the North Island-Powell River riding.