This is a week for mourning Jack Layton but very soon the federal New Democrats will turn their attention to finding someone to replace the man who brought the party to the benches of the Official Opposition.
In a letter penned just before he died, Mr. Layton recommend that the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the new year, “so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.”
It is unlikely that the New Democrats will stray, in any significant way, from that recommendation. They will also set a high fee for entering the leadership competition to ensure that only serious candidates are in the running.
Before the race has been officially declared, there are two likely front-runners who are expected to draw support from across the country.
The most obvious potential candidate is Thomas Mulcair, the lawyer and former provincial Liberal cabinet minister from Quebec who created a new beachhead for the party in that province when he won the Montreal riding of Outremont in a 2007 by-election.
Mr. Mulcair is well respected and fluently bilingual. And his work to make the NDP a viable option for Quebeckers – hard slogging that translated into huge success in the past election – may be rewarded by the party’s membership.
But he also is renowned for his mercurial temper. If New Democrats want to replace Jack Layton with someone similar to the man they have lost, Mr. Mulcair may have a tough fight on his hands.
The other potential front-runner is party president Brian Topp of Toronto, a former election campaign director who has not ruled out seeking public office or running to replace Mr. Layton.
Mr. Topp has support throughout the country. He was born and raised in Quebec, arrived in Ottawa in 1989 as an assistant to former Quebec New Democrat MP Phil Edmonston, then moved to Saskatchewan to work for former premier Roy Romanow.
Widely regarded as a moderate, he has union ties through his tenure as executive director of ACTRA and could possibly pull together the same kind of coalition as Mr. Layton.
There are other hopefuls who will be able to garner small pockets of support. But, for the moment, no one would seem to have the momentum of Mr. Mulcair or Mr. Topp.
Most of the NDP’s Quebec MPs are new to politics. And it would be inconceivable that the New Democratic Party, with 59 of its 103 seats in that province, would choose a leader who is not fluently bilingual. That rules out veterans like Libby Davies, the MP from British Columbia who is one of two deputy leaders.
The party’s federal council will meet in the coming weeks to decide on the date and the rules around a future leadership convention.
There will be a period of campaigning and then there will be a convention at which leadership hopefuls will gather and speak. But voting will be done electronically – one member, one ballot.
Until a new permanent leader is chosen, Mr. Layton recommended that former union leader and political rookie, Nycole Turmel, stay on as interim leader. Ms. Turmel has had a bumpy ride since filling in for Mr. Layton in July, mostly because of her memberships in separatist parties in Quebec – memberships she has since abandoned as she proclaimed herself to be a federalist.