Thomas Mulcair has ended weeks of reflection and started an uphill battle for the NDP leadership, with his supporters already taking shots at front-runner Brian Topp ahead of next week's formal campaign launch.
The NDP deputy leader will convene supporters in Montreal on Oct. 13 to inaugurate a leadership campaign that promises to reflect Mr. Mulcair's no-holds-barred approach to politics.
The party's best-known face in Quebec, Mr. Mulcair took weeks to decide to enter the race, lamenting the relative lack of party members in the province that propelled the NDP to Official Opposition in May.
Mr. Mulcair can be expected to go on the offensive in the race, having already contrasted his experience in elected politics with Mr. Topp's history in NDP backrooms. In a radio interview last month, Mr. Mulcair reminded listeners that his main opponent in the race to replace Jack Layton "has never been elected to anything in his life."
Interviewed on Tuesday, Mulcair supporters said the former Quebec cabinet minister and multi-term MP would perform better in an election campaign than Mr. Topp, who is not as experienced in front of the cameras.
"Mr. Topp is a candidate who doesn't have much charisma, which would be a problem in the event of a televised leaders debate," said New Democratic MP Tarik Brahmi, a supporter of Mr. Mulcair who represents the riding of Saint-Jean south of Montreal.
Mr. Brahmi added that Mr. Topp, who has the endorsement of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, "is the candidate of the apparatchik."
Other backers of Mr. Mulcair have criticized Mr. Topp because his name was floated as a potential candidate on the day Mr. Layton died. In addition, Mr. Broadbent endorsed Mr. Topp before any other candidate had entered the race, fuelling a sense in NDP circles that he is the party hierarchy's hand-picked replacement for Mr. Layton.
MP Pierre Nantel said he had concerns about the timing of Mr. Broadbent's endorsement.
"It's perfectly legitimate for him to endorse a candidate, but I wonder why he did it so early in the race," he said.
MP Jamie Nicholls, another Mulcair supporter, said that 15 to 30 caucus members will attend the launch in Montreal next week. Mr. Brahmi pointed out that no MPs were present on Sunday when MP Paul Dewar announced his leadership bid.
Mr. Topp's campaign initiated hostilities last month, when MP Alain Giguère said Mr. Mulcair lacked a national profile and could not win enough seats outside Quebec to beat the Conservatives in the next election.
"I see the strengths of Thomas and the weaknesses of Thomas, and Thomas, presently, does not have the capacity to win in the rest of Canada," Mr. Giguère said as he endorsed Mr. Topp.
The NDP leadership will be decided at a convention in Toronto in March.
Mr. Mulcair is better known in Quebec, where the NDP won 59 of its 103 seats in the last election. He has presented himself as the best candidate to ensure that the 58 other New Democratic MPs from the province – all rookies – keep their seats in the next election.
Mr. Mulcair resigned from the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest in 2006 over a proposed commercial development in a provincial park, and won a federal by-election the following year. In 2008, he became the first New Democratic candidate to win a seat in a general election in Quebec. However, he has made enemies in the NDP with his at-times abrasive personality behind closed doors.
Mr. Mulcair's entry into the race would bring a spark to the campaign that has so far been dominated by Mr. Topp, with a small number of MPs – Nathan Cullen, Romeo Saganash and Mr. Dewar – building up their own bids.
On Tuesday, NDP MP Peter Julian made a surprise announcement that he will not run, even though he had the public support of five caucus colleagues.
"I have decided that my role is to continue my work as interim caucus chair at this key point in our history and, as industry critic, to continue our work with the other significant economic roles in our shadow cabinet to put in place strong alternatives to the current government on jobs and the economy," he said in a statement.
Mr. Julian did not endorse anyone, although he did state that he hopes that women enter the race.