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A look at potential NDP leadership candidates

BC lesbian MP Libby Davies considering a run at the top job

Libby Davies speaking in the House of Commons. Credit: Dale Smith
The loss of Jack Layton means a new landscape for the federal NDP as well as a leadership contest that, in his final letter, Layton said should take place sooner rather than later, perhaps early in the new year. While interim leader Nycole Turmel has vowed to stay on until a leadership convention is held, the question of where the party goes next is a complex one.
 
There are several considerations for future leadership hopefuls, one of which is how to solidify the NDP’s gains in Quebec without alienating support in the rest of the country. Indeed, even without a leadership contest it would have been difficult to navigate the inherent contradiction of a platform that calls for a greater federal government role in areas of provincial jurisdiction such as health, post-secondary education and housing, while at the same time calling for the decentralization of those very same powers in Quebec.
 
As of yet there are no officially declared candidates, but several are openly mulling the idea, while a few have also ruled it out. So far much of the discussion has revolved around party president Brian Topp.
 
Topp, along with party stalwarts Anne McGrath and Brad Lavigne, was part of Layton’s inner circle during his tenure as leader. Like Layton, he was born an anglophone Quebecker, is bilingual and eventually transplanted to Toronto. And, like Layton, Topp has also fought prostate cancer.
 
While Topp has impressive credentials, he does not necessarily have the profile or charisma that the top job requires. If he decides not to run it will be interesting to see who he endorses.
 
The other obvious candidate is Thomas Mulcair, NDP deputy leader and Quebec lieutenant. Mulcair is considering a run and would have the support of much of the party’s majority Quebec caucus, which does not necessarily translate into on-the-ground support. NDP riding associations in Quebec remain small – many with only a handful of members and tiny annual budgets. It would be an uphill battle for Mulcair to build a membership base in the province when repeated polling has suggested much of the party’s support there was due to Layton’s personal charisma.
 
West Coast MP and deputy leader Libby Davies is also considering throwing her hat in the ring. Davies is popular with the party’s leftwing, but she does not speak French and has been criticized for comments she made last year about Israel. If Davies were to win she would have the distinction of being the first openly lesbian federal party leader.
 
Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar is also considering a leadership bid and has been consulting with potential supporters. While Dewar has attached his name to some worthy causes, including helping to sponsor a bill to send cheap AIDS drugs to developing countries, he has spent most of his political capital championing local municipal issues.
 
Halifax MP Robert Chisholm and BC MP Peter Julian may also run for the post. Chisholm previously led the provincial NDP in Nova Scotia and is credited with laying the groundwork for Premier Darrell Dexter’s eventual victory. BC MP Peter Julian is bilingual, which will set him apart from Dewar and Chisholm were he to run.
 
Gatineau MP Françoise Boivin is another potential candidate to watch, depending on the contest rules established at the Sept 9 caucus retreat. While Boivin is francophone and bilingual, her past as a Liberal MP will not play well with some members of the NDP base. Questions also remain about Boivin’s hiring of a woman to work as an assistant who the Liberals claimed was her same-sex partner during this year’s election campaign.
 
Finally, a potential candidate who should not be overlooked is Megan Leslie, the popular Halifax MP. She can speak French (though she admits it is not “always beautiful or correct”) and has plenty of support among the party’s younger members. Leslie was mentored by former NDP leader Alexa McDonough.
 
Official declarations likely won’t happen until after the rules for the leadership contest are announced at the Sept 9 caucus retreat in Quebec City, but speculation and consultations are definitely well underway.