National Newswatch

OTTAWA - A splashy, campaign-style launch for the government's fall agenda, a surprise tax cut for small business owners, a brand new NDP battle cry and a prime-time speech from Justin Trudeau: welcome to the 2015 election season.

With Parliament poised to resume on Monday, all three main political parties are clearly revving their political engines on the road to the next vote, currently scheduled to take place some 12 months from now.

Typically, the Tories are content to hold a modest news conference or have Stephen Harper address caucus members on Parliament Hill. This time, they've upped the ante, inviting supporters to an Ottawa convention centre Monday where the prime minister will lay out his fall agenda.

The invite was followed by what's likely to be the first in a string of tax cuts tossed out by the Tories as pre-election gifts on the road to the ballot box next year.

The cuts to employment insurance premiums for small business announced Thursday are the kind of targeted tax breaks the Tories adore, allowing them to woo boutique constituencies without breaking the bank.

And in the announcement, Finance Minister Joe Oliver tested out the key theme of Harper's planned address Monday — and indeed, the election itself.

"Canada has become an economic success story, but the global economy is fragile and there are geopolitical tensions," Oliver said in a statement.

"Therefore, we must continue taking action, as we have today, to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity."

That message comes on the heels of a new Conservative campaign ad, posted online earlier this week, that features waving Canadian flags, grain fields, urban skylines and Harper's voice singing the praises of Canada's economic might.

After a summer of slumping polls, the governing Conservatives are looking to recharge both themselves, their base and the electorate.

They aren't alone.

The Opposition New Democrats spent the week attending caucus strategy sessions in Edmonton, where leader Tom Mulcair sought to re-energize a party that's been eclipsed — perhaps unfairly — by the resurgent Liberals.

Mulcair's podium was emblazoned with the party's new slogan: "Change that's ready."

The NDP is promising to unveil detailed planks of their platform this fall, including plans for a national child-care program, a federal minimum wage and infrastructure investment.

"Parliament is back next week. This is the final stretch," Mulcair said. "We will work harder than ever and we need to work together."

Meanwhile, the Liberals are hyping Trudeau's speech Friday night to the Ontario wing of his party, which is gathering in Markham, Ont., for their annual meeting.

"It promises to be an exciting evening where he will talk about the importance of building the team and the plan on the road to the 2015 election," reads an email to supporters, telling them how to watch the address live online.

For the Conservatives, the decision to make the outline of the fall agenda a rally off the Hill is a departure from how the government usually rolls out its legislative plans — a quiet news conference with government House Leader Peter Van Loan.

That's usually followed by Harper's speech to caucus on the first day of their full meeting. Last year, journalists were denied access, setting the stage for what's become a hallmark of one Conservative fundraising pitch: Ottawa's media elites are working against them.

Members of the media are expected to be invited to Monday's event.

But Conservative insiders say getting the prime minister outside the Ottawa bubble and in front of groups of "regular" Canadians will be a key part of their strategy this fall as they seek to counter Trudeau's rampant populism.

For his part, Trudeau has said he is well aware that both the Conservatives and the NDP will focus their attacks on him.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, he said he has no plans to employ similar tactics.

"Canadians don't want that," Trudeau said. "That's one of the reasons we're doing so well."

— With files from Joan Bryden in Edmonton

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The Canadian Press
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