June 16, 2015 / 7:04 PM / in 5 years

Canada's Mulcair unveils economic plank, leads in the polls

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party opposition leader unveiled his party’s economic platform on Tuesday, pledging more support for the middle class and manufacturing as he heads to an October election leading in the polls.

New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during a speech to the economic community during a business luncheon in Toronto, June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Riding a surge of support for his party in key regions of Canada, Thomas Mulcair is fighting an uphill battle against a public perception that his party has no experience in federal government and will drive Canada off an economic cliff with social spending.

Speaking to business leaders in Toronto, the nation’s financial capital, the man that polls suggest could be Canada’s next prime minister pledged to fight for Canadian industry and exporters even as he balances a federal budget.

“We’ve got that social vision for a better country, but we also understand the importance of good, prudent public administration. We are capable of doing both,” he told reporters after his speech.

While the New Democrats have never formed government in Ottawa, a provincial arm of the party took power in Canada’s energy heartland of Alberta last month, ending a 40-year reign by the Conservative government.

The once-unthinkable victory in Alberta has set the stage for a strong challenge to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives have been in power in Ottawa for nine years but have fallen behind the New Democrats in polls.

The centrist Liberal Party also has a tranche of voter support, setting the stage for a three-way race and possible minority or coalition government come October.

While Mulcair has won high marks for his performance in official opposition since the 2011 election, speaking out against Harper’s contribution to the war against Islamic State and tougher security and intelligence powers at home, his party is often accused of having an anti-business stance.

Mulcair has said corporate taxes could be raised to approach the G7 average without hurting business, but his speech to business leaders focused on giving small business tax breaks and attracting foreign investment.

“Aerospace is a good example. If President Obama can go to China to help seal the deal for Boeing, I will go to world’s largest aerospace trade events - England’s Farnborough, or Le Bourget in Paris - to fight for our crucial aerospace sector,” Mulcair said.

The former professor and lawyer from the French-speaking province of Quebec also pledged more investment in infrastructure to reduce gridlock and a tax credit to encourage investment in research and development.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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