NDP Leader Tom Mulcair tells CTV Power Play that his strong support for the right of Muslim women to wear niqabs at citizenship ceremonies was among the reasons he lost in the federal election. However, he disagrees that his position on balancing the budget put him at odds with left-wing voters.

Mulcair said he knew he might be falling on his sword by maintaining a niqab position that opinion polling suggested was very unpopular with Quebecers. He stuck with it, he said, because the NDP is a “party of principle” and he is a “person who always bases his decisions on principle.”

“(Quebecers) wanted me to agree with them,” Mulcair said. “I understand that it made them uncomfortable, but I couldn’t agree that you could tell someone whose rights had been confirmed by the courts that they couldn’t express their religious identity the way they chose to do.”

Although he shared that position with the Liberals -- in contrast to the Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives who supported a ban of niqabs -- Mulcair said he paid a greater price than Justin Trudeau because he took on former Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe more forcefully during a French-language TV debate.

“I didn’t back down from that fight,” he said. “If you look at that debate, I was the one carrying that fight.”

But Mulcair disagreed that he ceded left-wing support to the Liberals by promising a balanced budget in contrast to Trudeau, who vowed to run deficits to fund infrastructure projects.

“I’ve travelled the country constantly since the election, spoken with thousands of members of our base, and I have yet to meet a single person in the NDP, an activist in the NDP, that says we were passed on the left by the Liberals,” he said.

“(NDP supporters) don’t feel that way because our ask was for large corporations to pay their fair share, so that we could guarantee the continuity of existing services like health care and bring in child care … (without) leaving debt on the backs of future generations.”

Mulcair added: “It’s not the sexiest slogan but good, competent public administration is something we want to be identified with.”

Mulcair also said he didn’t think his performance in question period during his tenure as leader of the opposition was wasted.

“People across Canada, after Jack (Layton) passed away, didn’t know me as much,” he said. “The work that we did in the House (of Commons) introduced me to a lot of Canadians.”

With a leadership review coming up at the NDP’s spring convention in Edmonton, Mulcair was quick to add that he travelled 100,000 kilometres during the election and “met more Canadians than I could have ever hoped for.”

“We feel that sadness that we weren’t able to complete it,” he added. “But you know what? We realize those values that have always been there for us, strong right at the root of the party, and in everything I’ve done in my career, (are) going to continue to carry us through.”

The NDP went from 103 seats after the 2011 election to just 44 seats after the Oct. 19 election. Most of the seats lost were in Quebec, where the party took 59 in 2011 but only 16 in October. The party’s share of the popular vote fell nationwide from 30.6 per cent in 2011 to 19.7 per cent.