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Brian Topp addresses a news conference in Vancouver, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Brian Topp addresses a news conference in Vancouver, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Letter from B.C.

Topp's NDP campaign tactics border on bullying, professor warns Add to ...

As Thomas Mulcair mulls his NDP leadership bid, a West Coast academic with an extensive background in the NDP has fired a powerful shot across the bow of the campaign that candidate and party president Brian Topp hopes will sail him into the top job.

Simon Fraser University professor Doug McArthur said the Topp campaign is guilty of “a kind of pushy, almost bullying, operation,” similar to the aggressive tactics used by Paul Martin organizers to catapult Mr. Martin into leadership of the federal Liberal party.

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“The strategy of the Topp machine is to run over every candidate before they have a chance to really get going.”

The danger of such tactics, which Prof. McArthur blames for the ongoing sag in Liberal fortunes, is the hard feelings it engenders among activists who are not on board. Many get discouraged and drop out.

“It becomes a kind of poison inside the party and lasts for a long, long time,” he said in an interview.

Prof. McArthur was elaborating on his blog about Mr. Topp’s run, which quotes “one key Topp insider” as summarizing their strategy as “let’s get this leadership campaign over before it even starts.”

Although Prof. McArthur has now let his party membership lapse, he served previously as a cabinet minister under former Saskatchewan NDP premier Allan Blakeney, as deputy minister to B.C. NDP premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark, and was a strong, early supporter of Jack Layton in his successful bid to lead the federal party.

He is currently a professor with SFU’s Graduate School of Public Policy.

Prof. McArthur said the Topp tactics were evident in strenuous, private efforts to discourage Quebec MP Romeo Saganash from running.

“They give the sense that this machine is too strong and nobody should get in the way,” he told The Globe and Mail. “MPs and party members talk about it in private. It’s pretty much a known story among a lot of people around the party, but it does create a culture where people don’t want to talk about it in public too much.”

Prof. McArthur urged the NDP to establish a code of conduct to ensure no one involved in the leadership contest is permitted to use “bullying and intimidation against those who won’t come on-side.

“The danger is that the party becomes infected with the same cancer that invaded the Liberal Party with Martin.”

Meanwhile, prospective candidate, Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian, who expects to announce his decision early next week, said he’s experienced none of the pressure tactics from Topp supporters referred to by Prof. McArthur.

“I’m not at all concerned about the way the campaign is playing itself out. There’s a very cordial relationships among all of us,” Mr. Julian said

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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