National Newswatch

OTTAWA - NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is throwing cold water on the idea of his party raising taxes on the wealthy if it forms government even though a star candidate in Toronto supports such a tax hike.

The NDP leader re-affirmed his position on the tax issue at a party event in Ottawa on Sunday that served as a unofficial launch to the next federal election campaign, although that is two years off.

Of more immediate concern is the high-profile battle between two journalistic heavyweights — the NDP's Linda McQuaig and Chrystia Freeland of the Liberals — in the upcoming bylection in Toronto Centre. McQuaig, a journalist and author, has made news highlighting the issue of income inequality and voicing support for a tax hike on the rich.

Mulcair said that is not party policy and he expects McQuaig to be a team player.

"She's an extraordinary candidate... but she's also playing now as part of a team and there's not the slightest problem with that," he said.

"I'm very clear, no increases in personal taxes will be in any way shape or form part of our political offer in 2015."

In an email statement, McQuaig said she was "proud" to be running on Mulcair's team "and fully support the party's policies, including its call for higher corporate tax rate."

"The NDP is the only party that has solid ideas to address the dramatic rise in income inequality, through strengthening public programs, creating quality jobs and increasing the fairness of the tax system. There are many ways to do this," she added, without mentioning the wealth tax.

Earlier, Mulcair spoke to the NDP federal council, telling about 100 party organizers and workers to start preparing for the next election.

In a campaign-style speech, Mulcair declared Ottawa "broken" and that the NDP, the only party among the big three never to have held power, is the only choice for Canadians who want to see real change.

If elected, he said an NDP government would roll back recent tax reductions on corporations, replacing them with "targeted tax incentives" for smaller firms to create jobs for youth, strengthen public pensions and reverse the Conservative plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security to 67. As well, he promised to put negotiations with First Nations on the front burner, saying talks should proceed on a "nation to nation" basis.

"Tomorrow marks the 250th anniversary of the Royal proclamation of 1763, that document uses the term nations to describe the first residents of Canada. It's about time that governments start recognizing we have to work nation to nation," he said. "This paternalism that is a sign of the past has got to stop."

The NDP leader met with Aboriginal leaders in his residence at Stornaway later Sunday.

Following the breakthrough in the 2011 election, which gave the party official opposition status for the first time, NDP policies and pronouncements have drawn greater attention and scrutiny because of the real possibility the party could win government.

The arrival of the charismatic Justin Trudeau appears to have revived Liberal Party prospects, dropping to NDP into third place in the public opinion polls. But at about 25 per cent support, the party remains in striking distance of the Liberals and Conservatives.

Mulcair says his party is ready to take the next step, saying the Conservatives will be facing a well-oiled machine in 2015.

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