NDP prepares to set leadership rules

New Democrats will gather in Ottawa Friday to set the terms for their party's leadership race and potential candidates are eager to learn the rules.
Interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel (middle) and other New Democrats will gather in Ottawa Friday to set the rules for the leadership race to replace Jack Layton. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

New Democrats will gather in Ottawa Friday to set the terms for their party’s leadership race and potential candidates are eager to learn the rules.

A number of NDP MPs, and the party’s president, have expressed interest in the job but have said they are waiting to hear the rules before making a final decision.

The party’s federal council is the body that will decide the conditions for the race to replace Jack Layton as leader. Layton, who led the NDP to Official Opposition status in the May 2 election, died of cancer on Aug. 22. Olivia Chow, Layton's wife and also a New Democrat MP, has said she will not run for leader.

Quebec MP Nycole Turmel is the interim leader and will be participating in Friday’s meeting. She is expected to give some opening remarks before the deliberations get underway. Members of the federal council who will not be attending include the NDP’s president Brian Topp and MP Peter Julian. Both have recused themselves from the meeting because they are considering standing as candidates and it would be a conflict for them to help shape the race’s rules.

In addition to Julian, the other MP representatives on the council are Niki Ashton and Claude Gravelle. The council is made up of about 100 people and has positions on it for labour groups, youth, minorities, and regional representatives.

Among the issues to be decided by the federal council are the entry fee for the contest, its length, spending limits for campaigns, and the group can also impose any new additional conditions. A date and location for the leadership convention haven’t been decided yet and could largely be determined by venue availability. Facilities are often booked for conventions more than a year in advance and the NDP could struggle to find a venue in a preferred location in the next few months.

Layton wrote in a public letter released after he died that he wanted the leadership selection to happen as early as possible in 2012. Some potential candidates, including NDP Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair, don't want the contest length to be too short because they need time to sell new memberships in the party to boost their support.

Quebec, where Mulcair is from, has particularly low membership levels in the party even though that province elected 59 MPs on May 2, up from just one, and was largely responsible for the NDP replacing the Liberals as Official Opposition.

One member, one vote?

There has been confusion over whether the NDP allows for union votes to carry more weight in a leadership contest. In 2003, "affiliated members" of the party got a full 25 per cent of total votes cast, but the clause allowing that wasn't in the new constitution, which was passed in 2009.

Turmel says the party now uses a one member, one vote system.

"In 2006, the convention changed the NDP constitution," she said. "If the NDP want to change that formula once again, they'll have to go back to the next convention to do so."

"The constitution is clear: it's one member, one vote," Turmel added.