The national NDP road show touched down in Vancouver today with a noisy Tom Mulcair rally at the Westin Bayshore Hotel.
It was an opportunity for the party to showcase two of its new Vancouver candidates—Mira Oreck and Jenny Kwan—who acted as the hosts of the event.
Oreck and Kwan are polished speakers, and Oreck drew loud applause with her criticism of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's support for Bill C-51.
"It is a failure of leadership to say you support Bill C-51 when you oppose it only because you're afraid Stephen Harper will criticize you for it," Oreck said.
Oreck is running in Vancouver Granville and Kwan is running in Vancouver East.
It surprised me that the NDP candidate for Vancouver Centre—Constance Barnes—was not sharing the podium with them. After all, the event was being held in Barnes's riding.
Mulcair's sister Deborah delivered impressive speech
Next up after Oreck and Kwan was Mulcair's sister, Deborah, who teaches in the finance department at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.
She delivered what was probably the most emotionally charged message of the afternoon.
Deborah Mulcair noted that she's one of the NDP leader's six sisters and that Tom was the second oldest of 10 kids in the family.
"Growing up, Tom was not only my brother, he was my confidant, he was my friend, he was my role model," Deborah Mulcair said.
She said that her brother "always showed leadership".
"Whether it was helping with homework, making dinner, or helping me get through my teenage years, he was always there for me," Deborah Mulcair said. "Tom has worked hard his whole life. Nothing was given to him."
She recalled her brother taking a job in a factory at the age of 14 to help the family.
"He showed us the value of working hard," Deborah Mulcair said. "I wanted to be just like him, so I took a job delivering newspapers as he had done when he was younger."
She also pointed out that her older brother taught her the value of doing what's right and the importance of serving others.
"He was my hero then and he's my hero today," Deborah Mulcair said to loud applause.
Mulcair arrived to great applause
When Mulcair came on stage, he sounded at first like one of those rock stars at Rogers Arena or B.C. Place Stadium.
"Hello Vancouverrrrr," the NDP leader shouted.
By this time, the crowd was fully energized and broke out in wild cheers.
"Are you ready to bring change to Ottawa?" Mulcair asked. "Are you ready to replace the politics of fear and division with the politics of hope and optimism?"
It's a line he's used before, but it still ignited the audience.
"It's great to be back in British Columbia and this amazing city," he said.
Then Mulcair went into what's becoming his standard stump speech, though it probably sounded new to most everyone at the Westin Bayshore this afternoon.
"Middle-class families are working harder than ever but can't get ahead," he said. "Incomes are flat-lining and household debt is skyrocketing."
NDP leader blamed Harper for poor economy
Mulcair segued into how Conservative Leader Stephen Harper admitted at the recent Maclean's magazine debate that his plan is not working. This is not exactly what Harper said, but Mulcair's line still delighted the crowd.
"As prime minister, Stephen Harper has the worst job-creation record since the Second World War," Mulcair said. "And he's got the worst economic-growth record since the Great Depression."
According to Mulcair, there are 200,000 more Canadians out of work today than before the last recession.
"We lost 400,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs," he added.
The NDP leader also claimed that Harper's government has run eight straight deficits and added $150 billion to the national debt.
"British Columbians can't afford another four years of Stephen Harper," he said.
Conservatives' ethical shortcomings highlighted
Mulcair tore a strip off Harper's promise to run a cleaner government than the former Liberal regimes under Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien.
"Conservative operatives and senators have been charged with election fraud; they pled guilty," he said. "Breach of trust, illegal lobbying, illegal campaign contributions, misleading voters, and bribery—celebrity fundraiser in the Senate, Mike Duffy, is up on 31 counts and his trial picks up again this week."
Mulcair pointed out that Harper's chief of staff and former chief staff will both be there to testify. Then he claimed that one-third of the Senate is under RCMP investigation.
In fact, the auditor general referred expense-account files about nine current and former senators to the RCMP after the national police force already revealed that it was investigating four others. There are 83 sitting senators.
But most in the crowd probably didn't notice that nuance as Mulcair continued along the ethics track with a direct reference to former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.
"Mr. Harper's own hand-picked ethics spokesperson was just sent to jail," Mulcair said. "Stephen Harper's Conservatives have been convicted of wrongdoing in each of the last three elections. And friends, you and I cannot let him get away with it a fourth time."
That's when the chants came forth of "time for a change."
"With a record like this, I ask British Columbians: does Stephen Harper deserve another four years?" Mulcair said.
After repeating some his remarks in French, the NDP leader said that his is the only party with the experience and the plan to "repair the damage" that Harper has done.
Mulcair's childcare promise excites New Democrats
Mulcair didn't just criticize Harper. The NDP leader also talked about his party's proposals, including investments in infrastructure to "create local jobs" and "tax relief" for small businesses.
I found it interesting that an NDP leader would use the term "tax relief". It was pioneered by U.S. Republicans, because it sounds less harsh than tax cuts.
Mulcair also promised to be a champion for manufacturing and high-tech industries.
Some of the loudest applause came when Mulcair said that every child deserves access to early childhood education. His party has promised a $15-per-day plan while keeping the universal child-care benefit.
"Here in Vancouver, parents are paying some of the highest child-care fees in the whole country," Mulcair said.
He insisted that the NDP plan is not only good for parents, but it's also good for the economy. And he pointed out that Conservative and Liberal governments never created child-care spaces.
"Once and for all, there will be quality, affordable, available childcare across this great province," he said.
NDP leader also discussed housing
Next, Mulcair said that affordable housing is a right and not a privilege.
He noted that "Vancouver remains the most expensive city in all of Canada in which to buy a home."
That, he claimed, is forcing middle-class families to leave the city to find a home they can afford.
"But it's not only bad for the families, it's also bad for the economy," the NDP leader declared.
He said that the cities and provinces need a partner in Ottawa to address the housing crisis. And Mulcair promised to help by being a "long-term partner" that the cities need to build more affordable housing.
"Under the New Democrats, Ottawa will finally do its share," he said.
Transit also mentioned
Meanwhile, Mulcair also claimed that Vancouver is "paying the price" of Canada being the only O.E.C.D. country without a national transit strategy.
"Every city in Canada should have modern transit infrastructure to move people quickly and affordably," the NDP leader insisted.
Then he reiterated a pledge that the NDP will transfer more of the federal gas tax to municipalities for transit. He said this would amount to $1.3 billion per year "to meet the transit needs of growing cities like Vancouver".
By now, the applause wasn't quite as intense, perhaps because the crowd was feeling exhausted.
Mulcair's speech to this point could be divided into two parts. The first made the case why Harper should be thrown out of power. The second included key NDP promises to urban voters.
Mulcair harkened back to his values
Then Mulcair closed by talking about the middle-class values that he learned growing up.
"As Deb said, I grew up the second oldest of 10 kids," he said. "We had to work for everything we had. It wasn't easy. We worked hard. We played by the rules. And we lived within our means."
Mulcair never uttered the word "Trudeau", but he was clearly setting himself apart from the son of the millionaire former prime minister. All criticism of Justin Trudeau came from the earlier speakers at this rally.
"I worked my way through law school," Mulcair continued. "Montreal summers are hot and they're a heckuva lot hotter when you're tarring roofs."
Next, he said that he learned the importance of looking out for one another, sticking together, and "backing up your principles with action".
"These are the values that guide me as a husband, as a father, and as a grandfather," Mulcair stated. "These values have guided my 35 years of public service, including as a cabinet minister. And these are the values that will guide me as prime minister."
And in case people missed it the first time, he repeated the NDP mantra that his team has the experience, the leadership, and the team to defeat Harper and the plan to repair the damage that he has wrought.
It was a well-choreographed show, but perhaps not as riveting as I expected.
This was not like the olden days
Once upon a time, NDP rallies were for the masses in the building, not the audience on television.
I can remember when former provincial leader Dave Barrett would fire up large crowds at Victoria's Memorial Arena and other locations with hourlong speeches that were at times hilarious, at times emotionally charged, and would always arouse New Democrats' passions.
In those days, TV was a secondary consideration.
Nowadays, everything seems scripted for the small screen.
Mulcair's podium was placed strategically in front of a huge Canadian flag.
Behind him was a bunch of ordinary-looking New Democrats seated on chairs, with many holding NDP placards. In front of the podium, the audience had a sufficient number of signs to wave, presenting the image of pro-Tom hysteria. And closer to the back of the room was a platform for the TV cameras to capture everything.
On tonight's televised newscasts, I expect that Mulcair's speech will come across well because he hit all the right notes.
But like a rock star who's played the same set list over and over again, Mulcair's performance didn't come across quite as spontaneously as many in the room might have hoped. This is likely particularly true among those who recall the barn-burning theatrics of Dave Barrett.