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If he sets his sights on Harper, Thomas Mulcair can win this election

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No, no, no, it's not over yet, not by a long shot. It was just about at this very stage of the 2011 election that the Orange Wave began. And don't forget all those clichés -- it ain't over till it's over. And two weeks is indeed a lifetime in politics. Just look at where we were two weeks ago. And who knows how the TPP trade deal will play out?

It's worth remembering the party remains higher in the polls right now than it ever was in all the elections before 2011. A few points here or there, and voilà! Back on top.

And don't forget that sheer old-fashioned ground organization can make all the difference on election day, and there are many ridings throughout the country, not least in downtown Toronto and in Vancouver, where the NDP local campaign should be able to bring out their supporters in two weeks.

Let me also add this, with much feeling. Thomas Mulcair's honourable defence of the right to wear a niqab is a proud moment in the life of the NDP, precisely because Mr. Mulcair himself, like me, like many New Democrats, and like most of Quebec, actually find the face veil so offensive. But the NDP refuses to go along to get along. Mr. Mulcair's defence of the right to be veiled is indeed comparable to the NDP's finest single moment back when it opposed P. E. Trudeau's shameful War Measures Act and the unprecedented attack on human rights in Quebec. Then too, it was only too obvious that virtually the entire nation supported Mr. Trudeau. But he was profoundly wrong, and the NDP chose honour and principle instead of pandering.

So once again in the past few weeks it's been heartwarming to see that principle can still occasionally trump opportunism in Canadian politics. Yet Stephen Harper's demagogic exploitation of the niqab/Muslim issue shames our entire country. I've been waiting all my life for an NDP breakthrough. But I must say that I'd rather lose once again than join forces with those who would win through dishonour and outright bigotry.

Still, it's understandable that New Democrats have concerns about the campaign. Many have written me to voice them. But this is nothing at all like the last Ontario election, with its significant internal backlash against the un-NDP campaign being run by provincial Leader Andrea Horwath. Still, there are questions, legitimate and important.

First: Where has the NDP's neoliberal economic platform come from? Certainly not from the NDP policy book or the party's members who overwhelmingly disagree with the promises about no deficits and balanced budgets.

Besides, can this possibly be the real change the NDP promises?

And if the NDP does win -- not yet out of the question by any means -- how could it fulfill the public's high expectations of an NDP government if it's constrained by a campaign promise of a balanced budget?

Second: Given that Mr. Harper has run one of the most destructive governments in modern Canadian history, why is Mr. Mulcair giving him almost a free ride while attacking Justin Trudeau at every turn? After all, when Mr. Trudeau talks about deficits, inequality, taxing the very rich, he's talking NDP. And aren't we going to have to work closely with him after October 19, to keep Mr. Harper out?

The answer of course is strategic. It was meant to consolidate the anti-Harper vote. The Mulcair campaign obviously believes that if he can diminish Mr. Trudeau in the eyes of progressive Canadians, they'll flock to the NDP banner and not split the Anyone But Conservative vote. This approach might have made sense two months ago. The Conservative attack on Trudeau as "just not ready" seemed so credible back then. But it clearly failed, thanks to Mr. Trudeau's surprising performance.

And yet the NDP seems to have decided to go after Mr. Trudeau even harder in a new series of ads. Isn't it considered madness when you double down on a failed strategy and expect different results. As one of my many correspondents on this matter typically wrote: "I have to say that if the 'He's Not Ready' stuff didn't work, the 'He Just Lost My Vote' stuff certainly won't. Besides it sounds surly and curmudgeonly. And don't they understand that it helps Mr. Trudeau? Why are we obsessively targeting the wrong person?" Another good question. The new ads merely draw attention to Mr. Trudeau, reminding Canadians that he's still flying high. And as usual, they ignore Mr. Harper instead of lambasting his record and demonstrating who the real anti-Harper leader is.

New Democrats are ready to redouble their efforts in this last sprint to the finish line. But there are some things many would like to see from the central campaign. They'd like to rediscover the real Tom Mulcair, the man who so brilliantly exposed the real Stephen Harper in Parliament. They'd appreciate an occasional nod to a larger NDP vision for Canada. They'd like to hear an occasional mention of equality and social justice and the fight against poverty -- the very raison d'être of the NDP.

This is not a call for purity and another moral victory. It's to say that NDP stalwarts must be motivated, inspired, just as the Conservative base is. Tom Mulcair must be their pied piper, attracting not only NDP activists but progressives in general, leading them to a Harper-free Canada.


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