Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says the No. 1 thing that people say when they come up to him is, “Get rid of Stephen Harper.”
Whether he’s down at Quidi Vidi Lake for the Regatta or having a beer on George Street during the summertime, he said he also gets a lot of people asking to take pictures for Facebook.
But really, he says, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the big topic of conversation.
“They tend to ask me to get rid of Stephen Harper,” Mulcair said in an interview with The Telegram at Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food in downtown St. John’s on Wednesday morning. “There we know where we stand socially, economically and environmentally. Also, they have a good appreciation of what our policies are, but they also, in that sentence, what they’re communicating to me is that they see us as the only ones who can defeat the Conservatives.”
Mulcair’s biggest criticisms of Harper seem focused on things happening on the mainland — he linked Harper government cuts to rail inspections with the Lac-Mégantic tragedy in Quebec, and similarly pointed to cuts to food inspection as a contributing factor to the XL Foods meat recall in Alberta.
But when prompted, he was ready to talk about Newfoundland and Labrador issues specifically, including Muskrat Falls, Marine Atlantic ferry woes, and search and rescue issues.
Mulcair said he was the only Quebec politician in the 2011 federal election to endorse the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee, and he still stands behind the project as an environmentally friendly option for energy.
He wouldn’t offer a specific opinion on the court challenge launched by Quebec which relates to Muskrat Falls, except to say that he doesn’t think it’ll derail the project.
“I’m not particularly concerned,” he said. “I don’t think that court case is going to change anything, to be honest with you.”
As for Marine Atlantic and search and rescue issues, he said Ottawa can be doing more, and that his MPs are the ones speaking up on those issues in a big way.
“Here on the island, the presence of Jack (Harris) and Ryan (Cleary) for us is the best assurance that Newfoundland issues will always be taken into account,” Mulcair said.
But after adding it all up — new helicopters for search and rescue, beefed-up ferry links between Newfoundland and the mainland, more federal regulatory inspections and a whole range of other things the Conservatives are doing wrong, or the Liberals were doing wrong before — Mulcair seemed surprised when he was asked if taxes would go up under an NDP government.
“You’re the first person who’s ever asked me that,” he said, adding quickly that they most definitely won’t.
“I am categorical on that,” he said. “Several provinces are now at the 50 per cent rate. Beyond that, you’re not talking taxation; you’re talking confiscation. And that is never going to be part of my policies, going after more individual taxes. Period. Full stop.”
And then, immediately, he went back on the attack, taking aim at the Conservatives for their record of fiscal management, criticizing them for growing the public service and then making cuts and laying people off.
He said the NDP would spend money on different things, and the NDP would make cuts, but they would be better cuts.
“Yes, you can order your priorities differently. Yes, there is enough money there,” he said. “This is the type of thing that has to be done with a scalpel. They’re hacking away with a rusty machete. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re lousy managers, and the NDP will provide really competent public administration.”
Mulcair spent most of the interview talking about the Conservatives and the things they’ve been doing wrong, but his sharpest barbs were saved for the Liberals. He said the NDP should be voted into government because that’s better than to “flip between Conservative corruption and Liberal corruption.” He said people should be distrustful of the Liberals especially, because they’re “snake oil salesmen.”
After the interview with The Telegram, he spent time talking with people in Rocket Bakery, shaking hands and getting his picture taken.
Someone who was sitting with an open laptop told The Telegram Mulcair saw a map on the screen and pointed to a cemetery, saying that’s where the Liberals are going.