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Infighting over leadership contest rules adds to opposition woes

We hear that NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash will pick up a significant endorsement, Tuesday, adding to her growing reputation as the compromise candidate who could defeat frontrunners Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair.

This would mean more if the NDP hadn't made so many crippling mistakes in setting out the ground rules for its leadership contest. The only consolation is that the Liberal situation may be even worse.

Let's start with the Grits. Astonishingly, they continue to fight amongst themselves in the run-up to their January convention, which is supposed to endorse new rules for modernizing party operations and for choosing a new leader based on a series of American-style primaries.

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All well and good, but there are more than a few influential Liberals anxious to pull you aside to warn of other proposed changes that are not so popular. One of those changes would essentially gut the provincial wings of the national party, so that the national executive could work directly to revive the individual riding associations, about 100 of which are currently moribund.

But many local Liberals see this as a power grab by head office and are fighting the idea.

And then there are the Liberal MPs who question the wisdom of the proposal to open up every riding to nomination contests. Once MPs are elected, these MPs contend, they should be safe from nomination challenges so that they can focus on representing the party in Ottawa.

Someone should tell these malcontents that the one thing the Liberals absolutely cannot afford is a divisive, faction-ridden convention in January. Either the third-place party unites, or it dies.

Things are not so grim for the NDP, but they're grim enough. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is starting to rue the decision of Interim Leader Nycole Turmel to boot leadership candidates from the shadow cabinet.

That seemed only fair, since keeping those candidates on the front bench would give them an unfair prominence during Question Period. But so many leadership aspirants are also MPs that the only one who seems to have benefited from the rule is former party president and frontrunning candidate Brian Topp.

In fact, as some Dippers quietly point out, every rule seems to favour Mr. Topp, who was much loved by the late Jack Layton. Regardless, kicking candidates off the front bench has left Ms. Turmel, an inexperienced rookie who speaks indifferent English, with a collection of critics largely composed of inexperienced rookies, some of whom speak indifferent English.

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Dippers are also restive over the ground rules for the six leadership debates that start in Ottawa in December and end in Vancouver in March.

MPs and other senior party figures haven't hesitated to point out that two of the debates will take place in Quebec, even though some of the candidates speak little or no French, but no debate is scheduled for Toronto, which just happens to be a traditional NDP bastion as well as the largest city in the country.

Mind you, with nine candidates up on the stage, one question is whether the debates will achieve anything other than cacophony, regardless of where or when they're held.

Ultimately, both parties will choose new leaders, despite the ground rules. But in these early days, at least, neither party is doing anything to give the Conservatives cause for concern.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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