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Candidates Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp greet supporters before the final NDP leadership debate in Vancouver on March 11, 2012. (DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Candidates Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp greet supporters before the final NDP leadership debate in Vancouver on March 11, 2012. (DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Crunching Numbers

On NDP endorsements, it's Mulcair's quantity vs. Topp's quality Add to ...

Thomas Mulcair is the frontrunner as the NDP leadership race comes to a close this weekend. He has more support from within the federal New Democratic caucus than the rest of the field combined, and has solid support among provincial legislators, labour leaders, and among former and current heads of the provincial wings of the party.

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But significant support from within the NDP establishment has also been given to Brian Topp, Peggy Nash, and Paul Dewar.

Mr. Mulcair, MP for Outremont, has the support of 43 of his caucus colleagues. The vast majority come from Quebec and accordingly have shallow roots within the party establishment, but Mr. Mulcair also has the support of veteran MPs in Ontario, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Brian Topp, who does not sit in the House of Commons, has the support of 13 NDP MPs while Peggy Nash, MP for Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park, has the support of nine caucus members. Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre, rounds out the top four with the support of eight MPs.

Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, has received the endorsement of four of his fellow MPs, two of them from his native British Columbia. Niki Ashton, MP for Churchill in Northern Manitoba, also has the support of four MPs, three of them from Quebec.

But not all caucus endorsements carry the same weight within the party. Though Mr. Mulcair has far more endorsements than any other candidate, he and his supporters have a combined 55 federal election wins under their belts. While that is still more than his opponents, the margin is narrower: Mr. Topp’s supporters have won 29 federal elections while Paul Dewar’s have won 20.

The gap is further narrowed when considering the amount of time caucus supporters and the candidates themselves have spent in the House of Commons. Most of Thomas Mulcair’s endorsers are rookie MPs, giving him and his supporters a combined total of 66 years on Parliament Hill. That is only slightly ahead of Brian Topp’s supporters (53.4 years). Paul Dewar and his supporters have a combined 35.8 years’ worth of experience as MPs, while Nathan Cullen and his caucus endorsers have a combined total of 29.7 years.

Mr. Cullen’s caucus team is the most experienced: they average 5.9 years apiece in Ottawa. Brian Topp’s are the next most experienced with an average of 4.1 years as an MP, while Paul Dewar’s camp averages four years.

After these three there is a big drop, as Niki Ashton’s team averages only 1.9 years’ worth of experience, Peggy Nash’s averages 1.7 years, and Thomas Mulcair’s averages 1.5 years.

But the candidates have received many more endorsements from outside the federal caucus. The provincial wings of the party, affiliated with and influential in the federal organization, have also been active in the campaign.

Mr. Topp has the most provincial endorsements, having received the support of 25 provincial legislators, the majority of them from British Columbia.

Mr. Dewar, with 14 MPPs and MLAs behind him, is tied with Mr. Mulcair in second. Most of Mr. Dewar’s have come from Manitoba, where Ms. Ashton has also received most of her 12 provincial endorsements.

Thirteen current and former provincial party leaders have also lent their support to candidates in the race, and here Mr. Mulcair has a big advantage over his rivals. He has received the support of the current leader of the NDP in New Brunswick, Dominic Cardy, as well as the support of former leaders in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, including former premiers Ed Schreyer, Piers McDonald, and Mike Harcourt.

Mr. Topp has received the endorsements of former Saskatchewan premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert as well as former B.C. leader Carole James, while Peggy Nash has the endorsement of current Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael. Paul Dewar got the nod from Mike Cassidy, former Ontario NDP Leader.

Two federal leaders have also weighed in with their choices: Ed Broadbent, the party’s most successful leader before Jack Layton, has been vocal in his support of Mr. Topp, and Alexa McDonough, who was the NDP leader in Nova Scotia before jumping to the federal scene, has given her support to Peggy Nash.

Though unions have not been given a set number of ballots, as they had been in previous NDP leadership races, the labour movement still plays an important role for the NDP.

Both Thomas Mulcair and Peggy Nash have received the support of eight labour leaders or unions, but the size of the organizations supporting Ms. Nash dwarfs that of the other candidates. Though there is some overlap between the membership rolls of these organizations, her supporting unions represent a combined total of more than 1.8 million Canadians. Mr. Mulcair’s organizations combine for only 400,000, putting him behind the 520,000 members of the four unions supporting Paul Dewar. Brian Topp has received the support of unions totaling more than 350,000 members.

And among former NDP MPs, Thomas Mulcair has more support than the rest of the field with 15. Brian Topp has the support of seven while Paul Dewar is support by four former MPs.

In a convention with delegates, these endorsements would be hugely important. But caucus and establishment support does not always give a candidate victory – both Christy Clark and Alison Redford, premiers of British Columbia and Alberta, respectively, received little caucus support before they won the leadership of their parties.

However, the make-up of these endorsements does give some indication of each candidate’s strength: Ms. Ashton and Mr. Cullen in their home provinces, Mr. Dewar in Manitoba and Ontario, Ms. Nash among the labour movement, Mr. Topp among the party elders and in the West, and Mr. Mulcair primarily in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Though the number of endorsements points to Thomas Mulcair being the favourite, his quantity is rivaled by the quality of Brian Topp’s backers. Peggy Nash, Paul Dewar, and Nathan Cullen have also netted endorsements of value themselves. The division of the party among the five leading candidates echoes the results of polls and fundraising numbers, leading to one conclusion: It should be a very close finish.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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