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Brian Topp arrives in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 16, 2011 to announce he's gained the support of local MPs and MLAs in his bid for federal NDP leader. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Brian Topp arrives in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 16, 2011 to announce he's gained the support of local MPs and MLAs in his bid for federal NDP leader. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Topp's bid to lead NDP gains key support in B.C. Add to ...

NDP leadership contender Brian Topp has locked up more high-level support in British Columbia, the province that is home to one-third of the party membership and stands to have the loudest voice in the selection of Jack Layton’s replacement.

As two more MPs are set to launch their own leadership bids, Mr. Topp is solidifying his status as the front-runner in the race, unveiling the endorsements on Thursday of four Vancouver Island MLAs, including former B.C. NDP leader Carole James. He will travel into the B.C. interior on Friday, where he will unveil more support to build on previous endorsements from the party’s Surrey MLAs.

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The backing is significant as provincial New Democrats are automatically members of the federal party and can vote in next year’s leadership vote. Mr. Topp, a long-time NDP strategist, has already obtained the support of former leader Ed Broadbent, former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, major union leaders and five B.C. MPs, including deputy leader Libby Davies of Vancouver.

Still, the situation has led some of Mr. Topp’s opponents to brand him as the candidate of the party “apparatchik,” warning it could turn off some New Democrats.

“If there is any party that will reject an establishment candidate, it is going to be ours,” said NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), who is also running in the leadership race. “We are suspicious of the establishment in general, and we even recognize that there is one within our party.”

Mr. Cullen, who is campaigning in Saskatchewan and Manitoba these days, added that endorsements from elected officials “aren’t much of a predictor” of the overall level of support among the membership.

“It looks good and attracts media attention, but in terms of rank and file ... it can actually have a reverse effect,” he said.

NDP MP Thomas Mulcair has also been campaigning in British Columbia this week, holding “meet & greets” at a pub in Vancouver on Wednesday and the Canoe Club in Victoria on Thursday. However, Mr. Mulcair’s big-name supporters are so far concentrated in Quebec, where the party membership is only about one-tenth of British Columbia’s.

In a one-member, one-vote leadership ballot, Mr. Topp’s recent breakthroughs in British Columbia stand to be key moments in the six-month race. According to numbers released by the party in August, 30,000 of the party’s 85,000 members are based in B.C., while the party has 22,000 members in Ontario, 10,000 in Manitoba, 9,000 in Saskatchewan and some 3,000 in Quebec.

Still, the number of candidates in the leadership race is set to grow to seven, which will make it harder to obtain a first-round victory and could lead to interesting strategies by the various campaigns in the preferential ballot.

NDP MP Peggy Nash is scheduled to announce her own bid in Toronto on Friday, while her colleague, Robert Chisholm, is set to join the race in Dartmouth on Sunday. Ms. Nash is the party’s finance critic and she would be the first woman in the race, while Mr. Chisholm, the former leader of the NDP in Nova Scotia and the critic for international trade, would be the first MP from the Maritimes in the race.

Other candidates are Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, Ontario MP Paul Dewar and Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh. Some New Democrats feel that MP Niki Ashton could also give it a try.

Before Mr. Layton’s death last August, Mr. Topp had been enlisted to run the NDP campaign in the next B.C. election alongside party leader Adrian Dix, which explains the ease with which he has been garnering support in the province.

“Brian Topp is the right leader at the right time for our party,” said Ms. James, who was the leader of the provincial party from 2003 to 2010. “His vision of a more equal Canada will mean new investments in the people, skills, and knowledge that we need to secure our economic future, here on Vancouver Island and throughout the country.”

The four other NDP MLAs on Vancouver Island supporting Mr. Topp are Maureen Karagianis, Scott Fraser, Bill Routley and Doug Routley.

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