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Toronto MP Peggy Nash and former party president Brian Topp embrace after the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuters)
Toronto MP Peggy Nash and former party president Brian Topp embrace after the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/Blair Gable/Reuters)

Topp lands Calvert's support as NDP rivals burnish union credentials Add to ...

The top contenders in the race to lead the federal New Democrats are rolling out high-power endorsements and reinforcing their support for Canada’s unions.

On Friday, former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert said he was backing Brian Topp, the former party president and union boss who is the favorite candidate of many of those closest to Jack Layton.

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Mr. Calvert said in a statement he believes Mr. Topp can win across the country.

“Brian grew up in Quebec and knows how to build on our Quebec breakthrough,” he said  ”He has deep roots in Saskatchewan where he started his family and worked at the heart of our NDP government.  And he has helped build the party right across the country, from B.C. to Newfoundland.”

Mr. Topp has announced some of the more left-leaning policies of the campaign to date, including tax increases on corporations, a 35-per-cent tax rate for people who earn more than $250,000, and the elimination of tax breaks on capital gains and stock options. Proposing any form of tax hike has long been considered politically risky.

But the former Saskatchewan premier said he is impressed with the boldness of Mr. Topp’s message.

“Brian understands that New Democrats have to dream big dreams and then lay out a plan to get there one practical step at a time,” Mr. Calvert said. “He is the only candidate to lay out a serious plan to re-balance Canada’s tax system to ensure everyone is paying their fair share.”

The endorsement came as Thomas Mulcair, the Quebec MP who is believed to be another frontrunner, was in Alberta to talk to candidates and union leaders in that province.

The New Democrats have long relied on their union roots for financial and campaign support. That has changed somewhat in recent years as electoral financing laws have cut off large donations from organized labour and as some high-profile union bosses have drifted to other parties.

But the NDP still counts on the unions for help in the political trenches.

Paul Dewar, an Ottawa MP who is also mounting a strong challenge, announced Friday that he had the support of the James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees, one of Canada’s largest unions.

Mr. Clancy is also the general vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress and the former president of the 100,000-member Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

“I am proud and privileged to offer my firm support to Paul Dewar in his bid to become the next Leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party,” Mr. Clancy said in a statement. “Paul has valuable experience as NDP foreign affairs critic, he has strongly supported first nations and working people, and has offered a real plan to create jobs and provide training opportunities for Canadians”.

On Thursday, Peggy Nash, a Toronto MP also vying for the leadership, joined the picket line with workers from the Rio Tinto Alcan plant in Alma, Que., who have been locked out since New Years Eve.

“It is unacceptable that a foreign multinational can take over a Canadian company without having to protect workers’ rights, never mind the regional economy,” Ms. Nash. “Rio Tinto Alcan’s favouring of sub-contractors over quality jobs in the region impacts the welfare of the whole community.”

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