NDP president and long-time backroomer Brian Topp has won the endorsement of party elder Ed Broadbent for his push to carry on the legacy of Jack Layton and be the first New Democrat to become prime minister.
Moving quickly on his bid to seize the NDP leadership, Mr. Topp is emerging as the early front-runner in a race with a pan-Canadian reach. He highlighted his Quebec roots on Monday at a news conference in Ottawa as he officially entered the race to replace Mr. Layton, before flying to Vancouver to unveil his Western strategy on Tuesday.
Mr. Topp refused to state whether Mr. Layton, who died of cancer last month, had asked him to run, but the support of Mr. Broadbent highlighted the extent of Mr. Topp's roots and support inside the NDP. Mr. Topp also revealed that he has the endorsement of New Democrat MP Françoise Boivin, showing that he has support in Quebec, the home turf of NDP House Leader Thomas Mulcair, who is likely to be his main opponent.
Mr. Topp acknowledged that his lack of experience in public office poses a challenge to his leadership bid, but he pointed to his years as a senior NDP staffer and union official as proof he could move quickly into the public eye.
Mr. Topp can be expected to continue the NDP's push to become a credible, more centrist alternative to the Conservative Party that Mr. Layton launched after he became leader in 2003 with Mr. Broadbent's support.
Mr. Topp is more closely aligned with the labour movement than Mr. Mulcair, which will provide him with an edge among the traditional bedrock of NDP support. Mr. Topp works for a union in Toronto, while Mr. Mulcair has described labour groups as another element of Canada's progressive movement, like environmentalists.
Mr. Mulcair stayed silent on Monday, with his office promising a final decision on a candidacy in the "coming weeks."
Other caucus members looking to join the race, such as MPs Paul Dewar, Peter Julian and Megan Leslie, have yet to tip their hands ahead of this week's NDP caucus meeting in Quebec City.
While he lacks a public profile, Mr. Topp is hoping to capitalize on his close ties to Mr. Layton and his key role in recent NDP electoral successes to help him become party leader, run for a seat in the House and enter Parliament as a prime-minister-in-waiting next year.
He said his priority would be to fight growing inequality in Canada, with the option of entering into agreements with other parties in the House of Commons in a bid to replace the Conservative government after the 2015 general election.
He added that all candidates in the race will struggle with low name recognition among the public, and that the winner will have to use the leadership position to bring the NDP to the next level.
"No one can replace Jack, but we can honour him by making sure his dream of social justice will never die," Mr. Topp said at a news conference. "I pledge to continue to build our party on the strong foundations that Jack built."
Mr. Topp, 51, said he grew up in a bilingual household on the south shore of Montreal before joining the NDP under Mr. Broadbent in the 1980s and heading out west to work in Saskatchewan's Romanow government in the 1990s.
He seemed at ease discussing political files, saying the government should slow its deficit-reduction efforts, and calling for new seats in Quebec when the government creates new ridings in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia to deal with growing populations.
On international affairs, he said Canada should vote in favour of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, although he later added that this was his personal view, and not that of the NDP.
Mr. Broadbent pointed out that he supported Mr. Layton in the 2003 race, even though, as a Toronto city councillor, he had no experience in the House. Mr. Broadbent said he now feels that Mr. Topp is the best-equipped candidate to lead the social-democratic party, ahead of all other current caucus members.
"This is the big leagues," Mr. Broadbent said. "It is the first time we will be consciously selecting a leader that the people of Canada will immediately be judging [whether] he or she is capable of being prime minister."
Ms. Boivin said she supports Mr. Topp because the NDP occupies 59 of the 75 seats in Quebec and must win support in other parts of the country to form the next government. Her comment seemed designed to address Mr. Mulcair's remarks that he would offer the best hope of keeping seats in Quebec, which is not a traditional hotbed of NDP support.
In response to questions about his health, Mr. Topp said he is feeling fine after successfully dealing with a bout of prostate cancer. Mr. Layton was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2009.
FIVE MPS MULLING THEIR CHANCES
The news that party luminary Ed Broadbent is supporting Brian Topp in the race to replace Jack Layton is likely to give other potential contenders pause.
So far, no one but Mr. Topp has officially launched a run for the job, which includes leading Her Majesty's Official Opposition.
But at least five NDP MPs are mulling their chances. They are Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Peter Julian, Megan Leslie and Peggy Nash.
None are political neophytes and all have been out front on issues pertaining to their critics roles. But the early momentum is riding with Mr. Topp, and Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair and any other candidate can expect an uphill climb.
The steep entry fee of $15,000 has been set to discourage those who do not have a chance of winning from putting their name on the ballot.
TOP LEADERSHIP CONTENDERS
Brian Topp, 51
Experience: A long-time NDP backroom man, Mr. Topp helped Phil Edmonston in 1990 become first New Democrat elected in Quebec. He was deputy chief of staff to Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, and played integral roles in four federal NDP election campaigns. He was a close confidant of Jack Layton and was elected party president in June.
Support: Mr. Topp entered the race with the encouragement of many of those who had been close to Mr. Layton. Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent is in his camp, and more high-profile New Democrats are expected to declare their support later this week.
Positives: He is bilingual and has worked in many parts of the country, including Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario. He also has strong ties to unions through his job as executive director of the Toronto branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.
Negatives: Mr. Topp has helped organize political campaigns but has never run for office or been a leadership candidate. He will not have day-to-day access to the caucus.
Growth: Mr. Topp needs to persuade the party that he could get elected and that his personality and experience make him the candidate who could most easily slide into Mr. Layton's shoes.
Thomas Mulcair, 56
Experience: A lawyer since 1979, he was a Liberal MNA in Quebec City from 1994 to 2007, and was the province's environment minister from 2003 to 2006. He won a seat in Montreal for the NDP in a 2007 by-election, which he kept in two subsequent general elections.
Support: Mr. Mulcair said many of his caucus colleagues will be on stage if he announces a leadership bid, with a particular emphasis on support in his home province of Quebec. A decision is expected in coming weeks.
Positives: In addition to his experience in government, which is relatively rare in the NDP caucus, Mr. Mulcair can claim some credit for the party's recent successes in Quebec, where he is the best known face of a 59-member caucus.
Negatives: Mr. Mulcair is known for his big ego, combative style and, at times, trenchant approach to politics. He also lacks long-standing roots in the NDP, which has no provincial wing in Quebec.
Growth: Mr. Mulcair wants to portray himself as a politician with experience, drive and determination to face off against the Conservative Party, but also make hard decision that will bring the NDP closer to victory by broadening its appeal beyond its union base.