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Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair holds up his membership card at a news conference announcing his candidacy for the NDP leadership on Oct. 13, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair holds up his membership card at a news conference announcing his candidacy for the NDP leadership on Oct. 13, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

NDP membership soars - but Quebec's share remains a mere fraction Add to ...

One-third of the recent membership growth in the NDP occurred in Quebec, but the province still badly trails the rest of the country in terms of its proportional influence in the selection of Jack Layton’s successor.

The NDP has attracted 11,200 new members since the launch of its leadership race in August, with the addition of 3,900 new card holders in Quebec providing the biggest boost. Overall, the party has 95,000 official supporters, up from 83,800 when Mr. Layton died three months ago.

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Still, Quebec continues to be under-represented in the race to find a new leader with just 5.9 per cent of the party cards in the one-member, one-vote leadership race. The province accounts for 23 per cent of the Canadian population, and almost 60 per cent of the members in the NDP caucus in Parliament.

It seems impossible for Quebec’s vote at the convention on March 24 to be proportional to its percentage of the population, given the NDP nearly started from scratch in the province and its membership is also growing throughout the country.

NDP MP Thomas Mulcair, who is the best known of the nine candidates in Quebec, is launching a membership drive in the province this week, sending his two campaign co-chairs in areas outside of Montreal to make a pitch to party supporters. The Mulcair camp is aiming for 20,000 members in Quebec by the end of the signing period.

“Quebeckers came out in droves in the last election to support the NDP,” MP François Lapointe, one of Mr. Mulcair’s Quebec co-chairs, said in an interview. “That weight has to evident in this race, it’s essential.”

British Columbia remains in first place with 31,500 members (up by 1,500), followed by Ontario with 25,700 members (up by 3,500). Manitoba (10,500 members), Saskatchewan (9,400) and Alberta (8,400) did not grow much in recent weeks, but they still have more members than Quebec (5,600). The party has yet to release numbers in the territories or New Brunswick, with the three other Atlantic provinces providing a total of 4,000 members (up by 2,300).

To boost its visibility across Canada, the NDP will organize six debates as part of the leadership race, starting next month with a bilingual event in Ottawa and going until early March, including two events in Quebec. The nine candidates will be asked at each debate to focus on specific themes, ranging for the economy to national unity to foreign policy.

Party members will be invited to submit questions for the leadership candidates on platforms such as YouTube.

A spokesman for NDP MP Paul Dewar’s campaign called for the addition of four extra debates during the campaign, to allow candidates to speak to existing party members, but also to “potential” NDP members. The plan would see the addition of extra events in the Atlantic, Ontario, the Prairies, and either British Columbia or the North.

“We like to see two debates in each of the five regions, which would mean a total of 10 of them,” Dewar spokesman Joe Cressy said.

The other participants in the race are: MPs Niki Ashton, Robert Chisholm, Nathan Cullen, Peggy Nash and Romeo Saganash, former party president Brian Topp, and businessman Martin Singh.

The list of scheduled debates is as follows:

Dec. 4, Ottawa – Building an inclusive economy

January, Halifax – Giving families a break

February, Quebec City – Providing leadership on the world stage

February, Winnipeg – Building bridges between urban and rural Canada

March, Montreal – Building a strong united Canada

March, Vancouver – Creating opportunities for youth and new Canadians

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