Brian Topp, the federal NDP's first declared leadership candidate, is seizing upon Tory attacks that label him a scary union sympathizer as a good sign.
When asked about the issue at his first campaign appearance in British Columbia, Mr. Topp happily quoted a tweet he sent out Tuesday morning: "To my PMO friends: I guess I worry you."
Hours earlier, Stephen Harper's Conservative strategists characterized the NDP president, who is hoping to succeed Jack Layton, as a "union boss" with "deep union ties." In a memo to MPs and party faithful, they asked: "How could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians, when he is so tied to big union special interests?"
But Mr. Topp, fired up, took pride in his union associations during a campaign event at Vancouver's convention centre.
"I am a proud executive director of a trade union. I am proud of the work we do. I am proud of the trade-union movement. We speak for working people in our work everyday," Mr. Topp said. "We are founding partners of the New Democratic Party of Canada and we are regularly elected in many provinces with that being a reality of our party, and we can do that federally."
The memo cites Mr. Topp's "ties to the United Steelworkers union's Canadian-born President Leo Gerard" and that he is executive director of the artists union, ACTRA Toronto.
Mr. Topp, 51, is in Vancouver on a kind of getting-to-know you visit expected to conclude Wednesday evening at which point he will head for Montreal. He is not planning to attend the NDP's federal caucus meeting in Quebec City because he is focused on his leadership bid.
On Tuesday, he met reporters with the backing of two former B.C. NDP leaders – Joy MacPhail and Dawn Black, a former NDP MP who led the provincial New Democrats until Adrian Dix was elected party leader this year. Both came out in support of Mr. Topp, along with sitting NDP MLAs John Horgan and Michelle Mungall.
Mr. Topp said he had come to British Columbia because New Democrats in the province will be integral in choosing the next leader, but offered no specific policy proposals besides defending his commitment to more seats for B.C. and other parts of Canada as an "appropriate Canadian compromise."
He also suggested the Senate be scrapped and seats from the Red Chamber folded into Parliament and elected by proportional representation.
"This is going to be a long campaign," he noted. Mr. Topp suggested he will eventually talk in detail about such issues as fiscal policy, health care, protecting the environment while creating jobs, and restoring Canada's "good name in the world" – referring to the federal Conservative stand on climate change as detrimental to Canada's image.
Mr. Topp may face competition soon from B.C. MPs Peter Julian and Nathan Cullen, who are said to be considering leadership bids. He said he would welcome Mr. Julian into the race, describing him as an old friend.
"We're always going to be on a team no matter what happens here," he said.
Prior to his decision to enter the federal leadership race, Mr. Topp had signed on to advise Mr. Dix in a potential election race against B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
He said he was working with the entire B.C. team on the assumption there would be a fall election – but that has, of course, been officially scrapped by Ms. Clark.
"I believe he's going to be an excellent premier when he's elected as he will be," Mr. Topp said of Mr. Dix
"We put together, had we needed it, I think, an excellent campaign. I believe if the Premier had called the election, we would have won, which is why she didn't call it."
Mr. Dix has been supportive of Mr. Topp's skills, but has not taken an official stand on the leadership race.