NDP leadership race sees sharp divisions, calls for unity

NDP members joined as one to pay tribute to Jack Layton, concluding a day in which leadership candidates made their last pitches and two former leaders battled over who should helm the party.

Results of 1st ballot due Saturday at 10 a.m. ET


  • 4,212 registered convention attendees
  • 55,659 advance votes cast

NDP members joined as one to pay tribute to Jack Layton, concluding a day in which leadership candidates made their last pitches and two former leaders battled over who should helm the party.

Live and through video, the party members paid tribute to Layton, who led them from 2003 until his death last year.

The first round of voting in the race to succeed Layton as permanent leader is currently open and results are due to be announced at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In their last pitches to party members, each of the seven candidates gave 20-minute presentations that often combined videos, music and speeches.

However, the performance of Thomas Mulcair during his showcase prompted a public spat between two former party leaders. Mulcair was forced to rush through his speech following a video presentation and after being led to the stage by a group of drummers.

Former party leader Ed Broadbent, who has endorsed Brian Topp, said on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon that he thought Mulcair "bombed."

"Compared to all the good speeches he’s made, he only spoke for four minutes, he read a text, he had to speed it up, it was not a good speech," Broadbent said

Another former NDP leader, Alexa McDonough, who is backing Peggy Nash, said she didn't "think it’s very helpful for any past leader to go after a candidate with a sledgehammer."

"I worry a little bit about some of those very, very condemning comments about Mulcair not being very helpful in the House of Commons when he stands up, whether he’s the leader or not the leader," she said.

Lorne Nystrom, a former NDP MP who three times ran for party leader, said he was "stunned" by Broadbent's criticism of Mulcair.

"This is something that is really unbecoming, and I can tell you party members across the country are very upset by what Ed Broadbent did and what he did again today," Nystrom told Solomon on Power & Politics.

Nystrom, who is a co-chair of Mulcair's campaign, said Broadbent's criticism plays into the Conservatives' hands.

"We should think carefully about what we say before we say it publicly in terms of internal party nominations, and Ed Broadbent did not do that, and it's what comes after this that worries me about his statements."

Nystrom added that he thought Broadbent's comments might ultimately backfire on Topp.

Candidates woo members

During his showcase, candidate Martin Singh said his priorities include supporting entrepreneurs and creating a national pharmacare program.

"That time has come," he said, talking about the roots of universal health care in the NDP and the need to make good on the promises of past governments for a national pharmacare program.

The Nova Scotia pharmacist said his involvement with the Canadian military as a reservist has given him leadership experience.

Toronto MP Nash encouraged members at the party's convention to "never, ever underestimate the tenacity and determination of a woman leader."

"I am that leader," she said.

Nash said that while people complained the NDP leadership race wasn't interesting enough, with little disagreement on policy, that was because the quality of candidates was so high. 

Unite progressives

Mulcair said he wants to bring together "progressives of all stripes" behind the the party.

"My only adversary sits across from me in the House of Commons," the Montreal MP said, referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In his video presentation and speech, Mulcair talked about the risks Harper poses to Canada and pitched himself as the person to stop him. Mulcair highlighted his electoral experience and said he knows how to win. He also said he has run a positive, upbeat campaign.

Niki Ashton took aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper as she made her final pitch for support at the party's convention.

"Enjoy being prime minister — while it lasts," was her message Friday to Harper.

In her presentation, Ashton played up her Prairie roots — talking about how her riding lost an industry following a foreign takeover. She said communities across the country are suffering from years of corporate tax breaks, free trade agreements and the erosion of collective bargaining.

Carrying on Layton's work

Leadership hopeful Brian Topp vowed to carry on the late Jack Layton's work and maintain the NDP's newly gained support in Quebec.

Addressing the convention attendees, Topp also talked about the party's social democratic roots and how closely aligned he is with them.

"I'm a proud New Democrat and an unapologetic social democrat," he said.

Topp said the core question for New Democrats must ask themselves is what kind of Canada they want. He said his vision for the country is one with fair taxes, one that acts on climate change and values seniors and young people, the arts and medicare.

Topp's showcase was partly kicked off by Shirley Douglas, daughter of the NDP's first leader, Tommy Douglas, and the mother of actor Kiefer Sutherland.

Rising from her wheelchair on stage, Douglas talked about the history of fighting for social justice.

"We can win," she said. "With Brian Topp as our leader, we will win."

Dewar vows Harper fight

Ottawa area MP Paul Dewar vowed to fight Prime Minister Stephen Harper and "take him down."

Dewar pointed to problems such as the deplorable housing conditions in the poor northern community of Attawapiskat and seniors struggling to make ends meet.

"This race is about these people. It's about the real majority left out by the Conservatives," he said, standing behind a podium. "We may have lost Jack [Layton], but we must not lose our way. And that's why I'm here today."

Co-operate with Liberals, Greens

Candidate Nathan Cullen said the party should co-operate with the Liberals and Greens in the next election and only run one candidate in Conservative-held ridings.

Cullen's idea has been rejected by all of the other candidates in the race. He acknowledged that the idea is controversial and promised a "democratic conversation" about it if he is elected.

He also promised to keep the party united.

"This is about family, my friends. The real fight is not in this room," Cullen told the crowd, adding the real fight is against the Conservative government.

Earlier, interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel told delegates they were about to make history by choosing the person who will beat Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2015.

"I'm so proud to have been part of that and to have led our great team," Turmel said in her speech at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. "I know we are up for the job."

Layton honoured

The leadership race follows the August 2011 death of Jack Layton due to cancer.

The party honoured Layton — who led the NDP from 2003 until his death — with a Friday evening tribute that included remarks from his family and others, as well as a video presentation.

NDP party members watch a video tribute to Jack Layton at the NDP leadership convention on March 23, 2012. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Videotaped tributes came from David Suzuki, former Toronto mayor David Miller, former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams, who called Layton a "man of the people."

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo told party members that Layton and his wife, MP Olivia Chow, were two of the first people to answer the call for help when suicides plagued Atleo's village.

Layton — true to his word — was always there, Atleo said.

Bill Blaikie, who Layton beat in the 2003 leadership race, said they managed to work together after that contest because they had each other's back. Blaikie said he hopes he and Layton can be a model for the candidates this time.

Layton's son Mike thanked the party for continuing his father's legacy, while Layton's daughter, Sarah, said he wanted his granddaughter, Beatrice, to grow up in a world that was optimistic.

With files from The Canadian Press