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Federal NDP leadership candidates Paul Dewar, left, and Nathan Cullen talk before a town hall in Vancouver on Dec. 10, 2011. (RICHARD LAM/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Federal NDP leadership candidates Paul Dewar, left, and Nathan Cullen talk before a town hall in Vancouver on Dec. 10, 2011. (RICHARD LAM/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

NDP leadership hopefuls make pitch to British Columbia Add to ...

Nathan Cullen, who wants to lead the federal New Democrats into the next election, told about 700 B.C. New Democrats Saturday his rivals for the opportunity are going to make it tough to pick one.

“We are going to make this choice as hard as possible for you,” the B.C. MP said in his closing statement to a leadership forum held during the weekend convention marking the 50th anniversary of the birth of the provincial New Democrats.

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But there was no debate to draw distinctions between the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP and his eight rivals, all of whom shared the stage during the amicable hour-long gathering. Instead, the cheerful event – not among the official party debates – proceeded like a series of speeches in silos, with candidates never pointedly interacting with other or taking each other on.

Present were MPs Niki Ashton, Robert Chisholm, Mr. Cullen, Paul Dewar, Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash and Romeo Saganash, as well as Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh and former NDP president Brian Topp.

In groups of three, the candidates responded to submitted questions in 60-second slots, agreeing, among other things, that a national daycare plan would be good, and that the looming talks on post-2014 federal health funding are important.

Still, some agreed the exercise was crucial because B.C. is home to about 30 per cent of the 95,000 members of the party seeking a permanent successor to Jack Layton.

“Nobody is going to be elected leader of the NDP without doing well in British Columbia,” Mr. Topp said, following the forum.

“It was an important date – no doubt about that – not just in this session we just had, but in the whole day’s work of the conference and the public meetings many of us have been having around this conference,” he said.

Peggy Nash noted the fact that every candidate was present speaks for itself. “B.C. has always, and continues to play a major role in the New Democratic Party.”

“It was an interesting format. It was a chance for the members to get a first look at us, but there’s four months more where we’ll be doing town halls and events and we’ll be able to get into the detail.”

Ms. Nash noted the format didn’t lend itself to any more heated discussion. “But one thing about New Democrats: We love to debate, and we love to discuss policies. I am sure there will be lots of that over the coming months.”

Bruce Ralston, the provincial NDP finance critic who is supporting Mr. Topp, said the tight time constraints may have been a good exercise for all the candidates.

“The way people are required to communicate these days requires an ability to be economic with your use of language, and compress your message and deliver it for full impact so that’s the challenge they were given and I think they rose to it.”

Mr. Topp quipped that the core of his forum message was in his last 60 seconds when he called for the “1 per cent” to pair their fair share of taxes, and said the NDP won’t get anywhere by managing the status quo.

“The Good Lord created Liberals to do that,” he said.

Follow on Twitter: @ianabailey

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