Tom Mulcair made a pitch to workers and unions Tuesday, after losing the support of a crucial labour ally just days before a vote on Sunday that will decide his future.

Mulcair told a room full of United Steelworkers in Montreal that, although the results of last year’s elections “weren’t as we hoped,” the NDP remains the clear choice to stand against “attacks” from Conservatives and Liberals.

“Sisters and brothers, only a strong labour movement united with New Democrats will stand up and demand a better deal for workers who are being left behind and left out of this winner takes all economy,” he said.

The speech came as news spread that Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, wants Mulcair to step aside.

Yussuff said the NDP “dropped the ball” in the last election, when the party was reduced to 44 seats.
“We had the largest budget in the history of the party … we had a lead in the polls going into the election, we were the official opposition and the end result is, we’re back in third-party status,” he said.

“Everything the activists and leaders who helped built the party had worked towards -- this was the moment,” he added. “It was in Tom’s hands.”

Meanwhile, former MP Peggy Nash, who ran against Mulcair for the leadership in 2012 wrote an opinion column published Tuesday calling for “a leader who can inspire.”

MPs Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton have refused to back Mulcair publicly. Among those who have stated support for the leader are MPs Nathan Cullen and Alexandre Boulerice.

And he continues to have the backing of high-ranking officials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the National Union of Public and General Employees, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Liberals are party of the ‘rich’

Mulcair’s speech to the steelworkers painted the Liberals as elitist and anti-labour. “Even with Stephen Harper gone, we’ve got to remain vigilant” for “attacks on workers,” he said.

“The rich and well-connected have the government on their side,” he went on.

“We are the only party that will make sure corporations pay their fair share,” he added, echoing his campaign promise to raise corporate taxes.

The NDP leader spent a large part of the speech outlining why he believes last month’s Liberal budget broke promises to reduce inequalities and missed opportunities to help workers.

For example, he said the Liberals backtracked on a campaign promise to close a so-called “CEO tax loophole,” which he said would have provided $800 million that could have been used to reduce poverty.

During the election, the Liberals suggested they would cap the amount of tax reductions from stock option gains at $100,000. However, Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters last month that it became clear during pre-budget consultations that “stock options are actually an important part of compensation for particular sectors in the economy,” including high tech start-ups.

Mulcair also chastised the Liberals for tax cuts he said “gave the maximum amount to someone earning $200,000 and absolutely nothing to someone earning $45,000.”

“Let’s start helping the people who actually need help in the current economy,” he added. “Let’s stop helping the wealthiest.”

Mulcair added that Justin Trudeau “barely scratched the surface” in extending Employment Insurance benefits in the budget. “Sixty per cent of Canadians who lose their job will not be eligible for employment insurance,” he said.

He also accused the Liberals of planning to “steal billions and billions of dollars” from the Employment Insurance Fund, a reference to Morneau’s plan to use a projected $1.2-billion surplus from the EI fund this year for general purposes, as the Conservatives had done.

Mulcair emphasized first private member’s bill the NDP presented in the new Parliament was their “Anti-Scab Bill.” The bill would amend the Canada Labour Code to make it illegal for employers to hire replacement workers during strikes and lockouts.

“When the NDP’s Anti-Scab bill comes to a vote,” he said, “We’ll get to see whose side the new Liberal government is really on.”

The Liberals proposed and passed pro-labour legislation as one of their first acts in Parliament. Their legislation amended the labour code to reverse Conservative-introduced requirements that unions publicly disclose their spending, and returned the certification process to one that unions prefer.

What number does Mulcair need?

Going into next Sunday’s vote, it is unclear how much support Mulcair needs to stay on as leader. The NDP constitution requires a new leadership vote only if 50 per cent or less support the leader, but some have suggested Mulcair would need to do better to keep the party united.

Mulcair told The Canadian Press Tuesday that “the kind of number evoked by (party president) Rebecca Blaikie is the kind of number I have felt across the country,” although he added, “there are other people who have other numbers.”

Blaikie told CTV’s Power Play last month that 70 per cent support is “a number I’ve heard a lot in my travels,” and that it’s a number Mulcair is “likely hoping for and targeting.”

But she added that “a number under 70 does not force him to leave, no.”

In an email sent to The Canadian Press after Tuesday’s interview, Mulcair said he had always refused, as a matter of principle, to provide a specific number.

"What I am asking New Democrats for is a strong endorsement so that we leave the convention united in our fight for a more equal Canada," the email read.

With a report from CTV's Omar Sachedina in Ottawa