Brian Topp supporters in the NDP leadership race are taking an increasing number of shots at potential candidate Thomas Mulcair, sharpening the rivalries in the campaign.
Mr. Topp emerged from a bus on Parliament Hill on Friday with two new backers: New Brunswick MP Yvon Godin and Quebec MP Alain Giguère. He has already had endorsements from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, Saskatchewan ex-premier Roy Romanow and Quebec MP Françoise Boivin.
Mr. Topp has said there would be no personal attacks during the leadership race, but Mr. Godin and Mr. Giguère took direct aim at Mr. Mulcair, saying he would be unable to expand the party's support in English Canada, and slamming his call for a membership push in Quebec. The attacks indicated that Mr. Mulcair, who is the Official Opposition's House Leader, is seen as a contender even though he has yet to launch a leadership bid. The only other declared candidate so far is MP Romeo Saganash, a former Cree leader from Quebec.
Mr. Giguère said he does not believe that Mr. Mulcair has the team and the profile to boost the NDP's presence outside Quebec, which would be essential to forming government.
"We must win 100 ridings in the next election, these 100 ridings will not come from Quebec," Mr. Giguère said.
Asked whether Mr. Mulcair is up to the job, Mr. Giguère said, "not in English Canada."
"I look and see the strengths of Thomas and the weaknesses of Thomas, and Thomas, presently, does not have the capacity to win in the rest of Canada," Mr. Giguère said.
Quebec sent 59 of the NDP's 102 MPs to Parliament, but it only has about three per cent of the party's membership. The province would have little influence in a one-member, one-vote leadership selection process, but Mr. Godin said he is ready to fight to ensure that all provinces are treated equally, adding that leadership candidates are expected to enlist new members everywhere.
"Those who want to run have seven months to do the job," Mr. Godin said. "For the party to favour one province? That's not how it works."
Near the end of the informal news conference, Mr. Topp stepped in front of his two new supporters to bring the campaign back to policy issues. A long-time adviser in NDP backrooms, Mr. Topp is calling for unity throughout the leadership race, which was prompted by Mr. Layton's death last month.
"Thomas Mulcair is a senior member of our team," Mr. Topp said. "He is well known across Canada and he will be a very good candidate across Canada. Thomas is only one example of the strength of [former leader]Jack Layton's team."
In a radio interview in Montreal this week, Mr. Mulcair highlighted his long experience in elected politics, both at the provincial and federal levels. He then pointed out that Mr. Topp, a former senior adviser to Mr. Romanow and Mr. Layton, "has never been elected to anything in his life."
Mr. Topp refused on Friday to commit to running in Mr. Layton's Toronto-Danforth riding, saying that the government could call the by-election before the leadership vote on March 24 at a convention in Toronto. Still, Mr. Topp said he will run for a seat in Parliament whatever the outcome of the race.