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NDP MP Thomas Mulcair speaks with the media following Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 5, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
NDP MP Thomas Mulcair speaks with the media following Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 5, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Mulcair aims for centre in NDP leadership bid Add to ...

Thomas Mulcair is set to enter the NDP leadership race as the candidate who will nudge the party toward the centre and bring decisiveness to a caucus accustomed to Jack Layton’s consensual style.

The NDP deputy leader is planning to launch his campaign with a bang on Thursday, casting himself as somewhat of an outsider who is ready to go against the wishes of the party’s establishment to bring New Democrats to power in 2015.

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The 56-year-old MP for Outremont hopes to present himself as the best candidate to “bring the party up to the next level,” meaning he is willing to push the NDP closer to the political centre in the hopes of winning government in 2015. This will pit him against members of the NDP establishment, with former NPD leader Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow solidly behind Mr. Mulcair’s main rival, Brian Topp.

“It was quite clear from the early days that a lot of the party brass were going to rally behind a candidate that they wanted to put in place, but the whole purpose of a leadership race is to put everything on the table and say what your vision is, how you think the party can grow, and where,” he said in an interview on Wednesday evening.

Mr. Mulcair, on the other hand, is seeking inspiration in Manitoba, where the lawyer once put his skills at legal translation to use.

“[Former premier]Gary Doer didn’t come to power by going all-out on the left. That’s where Thomas is,” said one of Mr. Mulcair’s close advisers.

Mr. Mulcair, well-known in party circles for his trenchant style and his at-times abrasive personality – is planning to surround himself with MPs when he officially jumps into the fray. Mr. Topp, a long-time backroom adviser, entered the race early and unveiled his supporters either individually or in groups of two news conferences across the country in recent weeks.

But Mr. Mulcair’s plans for a large-scale event in Montreal won’t surprise to those who followed his career in Quebec City from 1994 until he quit the Charest cabinet in 2006 over a planned real-estate development in a provincial park. Mr. Mulcair has attracted lawsuits, gone against the Quebec Liberals on environmental matters, and has broken electoral barriers for the NDP in Quebec since 2007.

Mr. Mulcair’s former colleagues in Quebec City remember a politician who took no prisoners.

“He is very charming, but if you get in the way of his principles, he can be a deadly killer,” said Liberal MNA Pierre Paradis.

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier added that the biggest challenge for Mr. Mulcair as a potential NDP leader is to use his intellect “not to fight, but rather to unite.”

Former NDP staffer Ian Capstick, who witnessed Mr. Mulcair’s arrival in Ottawa, said the party has been shaken up by his aggressiveness.

“At times, it is driven by politics and not policy, and that rubs New Democrats the wrong way. They are not used to power plays, they are not used to positioning, and they are not used to pugilism at all,” Mr. Capstick said.

But that will be Mr. Mulcair’s calling card.

“He is impatient, which is the antithesis of Jack Layton,” Mr. Capstick said.

Mr. Mulcair has already gone after Mr. Topp over his lack of experience in elected politics, and saying that he has been absent from Quebec over the past five years.

Mr. Topp has replied that the next leader must respect the “values, traditions and goals” of the NDP, a statement that seems like a clear jab at Mr. Mulcair’s Liberal past.

Mr. Mulcair has to build his profile outside Quebec. He also has to counter negative perceptions, thus the plan to have lots of MPs at his launch in an attempt to show that he is a team player.

With a report from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec

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