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Lack of French forces Nova Scotia's Robert Chisholm out of NDP race

Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm takes part in the first round of NDP leadership debates in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011.

FRED CHARTRAND/Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

The crowded field of candidates to succeed Jack Layton has been narrowed by one – the only candidate who could not converse in both official languages.

Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm abandoned his leadership bid Wednesday, saying his inability to speak French made his candidacy "non-negotiable."

The former Nova Scotia NDP leader had pledged to become bilingual but concluded that intentions were not enough. "Many spoke out about the need for the next leader to be able to speak fluent French on day one," Mr. Chisholm said in a written statement.

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"For the majority of party members, this is a non-negotiable qualification. Although I am working hard on my French, and will continue to do so, I will not meet this threshold by March 24."

At the first debate between the nine candidates for the NDP leadership, which was held in Ottawa earlier this month, Mr. Chisholm's inability to speak French set him apart from the others who are vying for the job.

While several candidates were clearly not fluent, they all pushed through the French-language portion of the contest, offering imperfect but comprehensible answers. Mr. Chisholm, however, had to rely on translation services to understand what was being asked and could only respond in English.

His departure from the race leaves eight people vying for the post of Opposition Leader. Leading candidates are thought to be party insider Brian Topp and MP Thomas Mulcair.

Mr. Chisholm's return to the trenches of politics will be good news for the NDP, whose ability to hold the government to account has been hampered by having so many of their best talents caught up in the leadership race.

Mr. Chisholm was elected federally for the first time in the spring but had led the Nova Scotia NDP to the brink of government in 1998, its best showing until his successor, Darrell Dexter, won the 2009 provincial race. On Wednesday he thanked Mr. Dexter and other politicians for their support, pledged to continue learning French and voiced support for those still in the race.

"I wish all remaining candidates the best of luck," he said. "As I've learned more about each of them during the past weeks, I've become even more confident in our future."

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The NDP rode a huge wave of support in Quebec during the last weeks of the spring election race, finishing with its best national showing to date and electing dozens in the province. The party had never before elected more than one MP in Quebec – Mr. Mulcair – and the strength of its showing gave the linguistic skills of Mr. Layton's replacement all the more important.

The party is temporarily being led by Nycole Turmel, who was chosen by Mr. Layton in part because she did not want the permanent leadership.

The eight people running for the top job are now MPs Niki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Mr. Mulcair, Peggy Nash and Romeo Saganash, as well as Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh and Mr. Topp, the former party president.

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About the Authors

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. 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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