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Drawn-out entrance trips up Mulcair as NDP begins selecting its leader

Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair makes his way to the stage at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on March 23, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair walked slowly through the crowd to the sound of drummers as he entered the floor of Toronto convention centre, losing precious time to convince his party to anoint him as successor to Jack Layton.

The drawn-out entry forced Mr. Mulcair to zip through his speech within the allowed time frame, eating partially into his status as the front-runner in the race.

With only 55,000 out of 131,000 members having cast their ballots already, there is still a lot of room for last-minute swings in support, depending on the percentage of New Democrats who participate in the live voting on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

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While Mr. Mulcair did not live up entirely to expectations with his speech, he did showcase his strength his French, his support among union members and his experience in government.

In addition, it is unclear if any of his rivals stepped up to the plate and delivered the necessary performance to catch up during Saturday's ballots.

Backroom strategist Brian Topp obviously has trouble firing up a crowd. Still, the former party president has had the advantage of the Layton machine promoting him behind the scenes. Mr. Topp had the slickest video and highest-power endorsements, as party stalwart Ed Broadbent, former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and actress Shirley Douglas, the daughter of party founder Tommy Douglas all spoke in his favour.

Mr. Topp makes no moves to disguise his place on the political spectrum. "I am a proud New Democrat and an unapologetic social democrat," he told the crowd.

His pitch was for equality entails realigning the tax system, even as most politicians consider the subject of tax increases, even for the very rich, to be career killers. But Mr. Topp is not hesitant to wade in those waters.

New Democrats must fight and fight hard for a progressive tax system, he told the crowd. It's wrong, he said, that the people working in the hotels where delegates are staying in this weekend pay a higher tax rate that the folks making millions on Bay Street.

It is a message that resonates with New Democrats. The question is whether the voters here think it will sell to the public at large.

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MP Nathan Cullen had a no-frills speech, without a video or a guest introduction. Instead, he went with a personal touch, walking around with microphone in hand and explaining how his plan after the election was to spend time with his family and defeat a planned pipeline that would go through his northern B.C. riding.

After Mr. Layton's death, Mr. Cullen said he decided to enter the leadership race, even though he was an underdog. Speaking with emotion and attempting to inspire delegates, Mr. Cullen said "there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

He pointed out that he had defended both Mr. Topp and Mr. Mulcair during the race, presenting himself as a unity candidate, in the hope of emerging as the one who can bridge the gap between the various factions of the NDP.

"This is about family, my friends, and the real fight is not in this room," Mr. Cullen said.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar has been dogged throughout the campaign by complaints that his French is not up to snuff – a serious issue for someone who hopes to lead a largely francophone caucus.

Mr. Dewar opted to lead both his speech and his video with a few words in his second language but was occasionally incomprehensible even though the words had been formulated in advance.

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That said, Mr. Dewar displayed a kind of passion that was unexpected. There was a tinge of Pentecostal revival leader to his inflection.

His message was about winning and he promised to establish a ground game for the party to win 70 extra seats in every part of the country. The New Democrats, Mr. Dewar said, have to set a place at their table for Canadians who didn't vote NDP and for those who didn't vote at all.

Peggy Nash, meanwhile, suffered from technical issues.

The sound on her video was so muted that she could barely be understood. And at the end of her live speech she was competing to be heard over her own music.

But the Toronto MP did have former leader Alexa McDonough and three young members of her Quebec caucus to provide introductions which would have scored some points.

Ms.Nash's message was that she is the only one who can take the party to victory because she is the candidate with the qualifications, leadership and personality.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, who has run a small campaign that seems designed to prepare her for the next leadership race, placed much emphasis on her youth and her rural upbringing. The 29-year-old attacked corporate tax breaks and government cutbacks, saying that all previous governments were to blame.

"Liberal, Tory, same old story," she said. "We can do better."

Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh rounded out the speeches by calling on the NDP to allow the private sector to "thrive" and saying the country's social programs can only be sustained if the economy is strong.

Mr. Singh has already indicated that he is calling on his supporters to throw their support to Mr. Mulcair after he is forced off the ballot.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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