Potential NDP leadership contender Thomas Mulcair to break his silence

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Thomas Mulcair, the NDP deputy leader, is to break his silence just three days after Jack Layton’s funeral.

The Montreal MP is scheduled to scrum with reporters Tuesday afternoon in advance of a speech he is making at McGill University. He is considered one of the frontrunners in the race to replace Mr. Layton, who died last Monday. But it is not clear whether Mr. Mulcair will announce his intentions or not.

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Since Mr. Layton’s death, Mr. Mulcair has been very quiet. He was visibly overwhelmed with emotion when he visited the late Official Opposition leader’s flag-draped casket as it lay in state in the House of Commons foyer last week. At the funeral Saturday in Toronto, he was also said to be very upset.

His appearance Tuesday comes amid much media discussion about Brian Topp, the NDP president and a close adviser to Mr. Layton, and his potential to take the reins as leader.

Although Mr. Topp has been picking his English-language media spots carefully, but he granted a full interview Monday to Joel-Denis Bellavance of La Presse.

This is a clear signal of the importance of Quebec to the NDP and Mr. Topp, with whose help Mr. Layton made a breakthrough in the May 2 election, winning 59 of a possible 75 seats. The challenge now is to hold on to those gains.

In the article, Mr. Topp said he was seriously considering entering the leadership race and would be making his decision soon.

Originally from Quebec and bilingual, he told The Globe in an email Monday that he would step aside as party president if he were to run. In addition, he will not be involved in the decisions around a leadership convention.

A former top NDP adviser, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday there has been serious thinking about succession going for some time. Mr. Layton had been suffering from prostate cancer but it wasn’t until July, when he announced he was stepping aside temporarily, that the public realized exactly how sick he was.

The former adviser said party members must consider three key issues when electing a leader. The first is Quebec and the ability to communicate comfortably with Quebeckers. Carrying on the Layton legacy in Quebec, he said, is the most important goal.

Second is that the candidate is seen as inclusive of all sides. Mr. Layton operated as an inclusive politician, ready and willing to consider all points in a debate.

Third is the ability to communicate to a wide audience and not just champion the NDP base. To be successful, the ex-adviser said, a leadership candidate must be seeking to grow support outside of the traditional NDP core.

It’s expected the leadership contest will begin to take a clearer form over the next 10 days with potential candidates stepping forward. The NDP caucus is to meet in Quebec City next month in advance of the House resuming on Sept. 19.

And the party’s federal council will set the rules for the contest at a meeting in Ottawa on Sept. 9, choosing a location and a date early in 2012 in which the NDP will select its new leader on the basis of one member, one vote.

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Update Mr. Mulcair says he's " thinking about" mounting a bid to replace Mr. Layton, but that he won't make a final descision for a few weeks.

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