Thomas Mulcair and Libby Davies can keep their title of deputy leader should they decide to run for the NDP leadership, a decision that has triggered some tension in the early jockeying in the race to replace Jack Layton.
NDP caucus members running for leader will have to quit their positions as critics or committee chairs, according to rules released by Interim Leader Nycole Turmel Wednesday. Mr. Mulcair, who has said he is still reflecting on whether to mount a bid, would lose his influential position as House Leader if he runs, but would be allowed to retain his title as deputy leader.
Quebec MP Françoise Boivin, who supports party president Brian Topp, said she understood that Mr. Mulcair would have to abandon his role as deputy leader. But others, including potential candidates Peter Julian and Nathan Cullen, said allowing Mr. Mulcair and Ms. Davies to keep their titles would not give them any undue advantage. Deputy leaders often stand in for the leader during Question Period.
With the race only just begun, it's clear that tension is already mounting within caucus. So far the party's large contingent of Quebec MPs is hesitating to speak out in favour of Mr. Mulcair – who was the only New Democrat to hail from the province in the House of Commons prior to the May 2 election.
Mr. Topp is the only declared leadership candidate so far. Other potential contenders say they will wait a least a few weeks before deciding whether to run. Mr. Mulcair, should he decide to run, would be considered a serious contender along with Mr. Topp.
Mr. Mulcair has said his support among Quebec MPs is strong, arguing that "they know what role I played in helping them all get elected." Though yet to officially declare, he is also presenting himself as the candidate in the best position to ensure the re-election of New Democrats in Quebec in four years.
"They want to make sure they come back so that we can form a government, because that's our No. 1 purpose," Mr. Mulcair said.
But Ms. Boivin, who appeared alongside former leader Ed Broadbent at Mr. Topp's announcement this week, said the Quebec victory was a team effort led by Mr. Layton that involved a number of other party officials, including many who are now in caucus.
"Everything was well planned, it didn't fall from the sky," Ms. Boivin said. "There was a lot of work on the ground beforehand."
She said the 59 NDP MPs in Quebec will keep their ridings by focusing on their parliamentary duties and delivering change for their constituents. Ms. Boivin added that the key to forming the next government is for the party to hold its Quebec gains and win dozens more ridings in the rest of the country.
The leadership rules stipulate that candidates have until 60 days before the March 24 convention to announce their intentions. But most said they will decide long before the cut-off date.
"Like other colleagues, I've not yet made up my mind," finance critic Peggy Nash said. "I'm thinking about it. I haven't made my decision. I'm consulting with my caucus colleagues. It's a big decision with lots to consider."
In light of the internal haggling over the leadership race, Ms. Turmel's challenge will be to ensure the contest doesn't distract caucus from its main priority – opposing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
With recession fears mounting, the NDP is making the economy its No. 1 issue, with emphasis on job creation and pension protection for seniors and retirees. Ms. Turmel accused the Conservatives of aiding the wealthy at the expense of average taxpayers and struggling small- and medium-sized businesses.
"Stephen Harper is sticking to a failed approach of giving away billions to profitable companies with no guarantees of having a single job created," Ms. Turmel said Wednesday. "Stephen Harper's economic policies favour the largest and most profitable companies."
The NDP will also wage a battle against the government's plan to get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board, which Ms. Turmel argued will hurt family operated farms in Western Canada. Pensioners will also be hit hard by the government's desire to offer private-sector alternatives rather than expand the public Canada Pension Plan.