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Quebec NDP MP Thomas Mulcair arrives at McGill University on Aug. 30, 2011, in Montreal. Mr. Mulcair said he hasn't decided whether to run for the party leadership. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec NDP MP Thomas Mulcair arrives at McGill University on Aug. 30, 2011, in Montreal. Mr. Mulcair said he hasn't decided whether to run for the party leadership. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Lacking members, NDP's Quebec wing seeks delayed leadership vote Add to ...

The Quebec caucus dwarfs all others in the NDP, but when it comes to electing a new leader, the province currently has only 2 per cent of the members eligible to vote in next year’s convention.

As a result, the Quebec wing of the NDP is calling for the longest possible period to sell new memberships ahead of the convention to ensure that the party’s new-found strength in the province is reflected in the leadership-selection process. The push puts pressure on the party to postpone its leadership convention, which many felt would occur next January, by at least one or two months.

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While 59 of the 103 NDP seats are located in Quebec, the party now has only 1,700 members in the province. By contrast, the party has 85,000 members in the rest of the country, meaning the Quebec contingent could be minuscule at the party convention unless leadership candidates have a long period to attract new members to the party.

“We don’t want a race that excludes Quebec,” Raoul Gebert, the president of the Quebec wing, said in an interview. “That’s my preoccupation; we want a race that occurs in Quebec as much as elsewhere.”

The Quebec wing is calling for a cutoff date on the sale of memberships of 30 days before the leadership convention, which would be shorter than previous cutoff dates. Final decisions on the convention, including the date and the location of the vote, will be made on Sept. 9 by the NDP’s federal council.

Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP who died in August, said in his last letter to the public that the convention should be held early in the new year, which many party officials interpreted as meaning next January.

However, NDP president Brian Topp, who is thinking of running to replace Mr. Layton, said he agrees with calls for a vote later in the year, such as February or March.

“This campaign should probably look roughly like the last one did – six or seven months – precisely so that there is good time to recruit new members, to hold a successful convention, and then to be able to do some work before the House rises in the summer,” said Mr. Topp, who was born in Quebec, worked in Saskatchewan and now lives in Toronto.

Mr. Gebert expressed concerns over the fact that provincial NDP parties outside of Quebec, whose members will vote for the new federal leader, will be mobilized by fall elections in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as a recent B.C. leadership race.

Fuelled largely by recent provincial leadership races, there are now 30,000 members in British Columbia, 22,000 in Ontario, 10,000 in Manitoba and 9,000 in Saskatchewan.

“We have to make sure that our demographic weight catches up to the rest of the membership,” Mr. Gebert said, pointing to the absence of a provincial NDP in Quebec. “The party’s roots are taking hold here, but it doesn’t go back to the 1940s as it does in places like Saskatchewan.”

The NDP is well aware of the challenges in Quebec, and has recently ordered thousands of new membership forms in the province and hired staff to process new applications.

Other potential leadership candidates in the NDP caucus include Ontario’s Charlie Angus, Nova Scotia’s Robert Chisholm and Quebec’s Thomas Mulcair, Roméo Saganash and Françoise Boivin.

Ms. Boivin, a former Liberal MP, acknowledged that a speedy vote would risk limiting the party’s growth in places such as Quebec. “It’s obvious that an early date can make it harder for some candidates, although not impossible, in terms of having time to attract supporters,” she said.

Mr. Chisholm added: “I'm hoping for a leadership contest that is as inclusive as possible, bringing in different perspectives and ideas. I prefer a timeline that ensures that will occur and will respect the decision of council.”

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