NDP's Robert Chisholm quits leadership race

NDP MP Robert Chisholm has pulled out of the NDP leadership race, citing his inability to speak French fluently.

Nova Scotia MP says his French won't be good enough by March

NDP MP Robert Chisholm takes part in the party's first leadership debate in Ottawa on Dec. 4. Chisholm, who spoke English during the French-language portion of the debate, ended his leadership bid Wednesday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm quit the NDP leadership race on Wednesday, acknowledging he won't be able to speak French fluently by March. 

"The time has come for me to step aside and end my campaign to become the next leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada," he said in a statement. "It's always been my desire to do what I think is best — for my constituents, for the NDP and for Canada. That has always guided my decisions and it's under the same guiding principles that I decided to withdraw from the race."

Chisholm's withdrawal means there are eight candidates left vying to succeed Jack Layton as leader following the longtime NDP leader's death last summer following his second bout with cancer.


Who should lead the NDP? Have your say.

Chisholm's biggest weakness compared to the others is his lack of bilingualism, but he was hoping his political experience would outweigh his language deficiency. 

Chisholm, who was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in May, has been working on learning French but said it won't be good enough by March when the NDP chooses its new leader.

"While many agreed with me that our next leader needs real leadership experience and a strong vision, many spoke out about the need for the next leader to be able to speak fluent French on Day 1," said Chisholm.

"For the majority of party members, this is a non-negotiable qualification. Although I am working hard on my French, and will continue to do so, I will not meet this threshold by March 24th."

In an interview with host Evan Solomon on Power & Politics, Chisholm said he got a lot of support for his campaign, but the feedback from party members was that he needs to be able to speak French now.

"I've listened to New Democrats from one end of the county to the other and I hear what they're saying. They're telling me that the next leader has to be fluent in both official languages on day one and that counts me out," he said.

He was in the race to win it, but Chisholm said he can better use his time to help the NDP be an effective opposition party.

"I offer my leadership experience, my skills and my commitment to the next leader whoever that is that's chosen on March 24th," he said. Chisholm, who forfeits a $15,000 entry fee, said he doesn't regret giving the leadership race a try.

"It's never a mistake to do what you believe in," he said.

Chisholm spoke English during the French portion of the leadership debate on Dec. 4, and in an interview with CBC News the following day he talked about how tough it is not being able to speak the language.

"This is more than a language contest. This is about leadership. I bring that experience to the table," he said, adding he had no intention of pulling out of the race.

He said in the interview he made no apologies for his inability to speak French well, but was committed to learning the language.

Chisholm remains 'confident in our future'

The former provincial NDP leader wished the remaining candidates luck in his statement, but did not endorse any of them.

"As I've learned more about each of them during the past weeks, I've become even more confident in our future," he said.

Chisholm told Solomon that he will be weighing his decision for who to support carefully as the race proceeds.

With Chisholm out of the race, those who had backed him, including Ontario's former NDP leader, Howard Hampton, will have to pick a new candidate to support.

The eight remaining candidates are:

  • Niki Ashton.
  • Nathan Cullen.
  • Paul Dewar.
  • Thomas Mulcair.
  • Peggy Nash.
  • Romeo Saganash.
  • Martin Singh.
  • Brian Topp.

The new leader will be elected at a convention in Toronto.