Brian Topp may have missed the mark in his bid to become the leader of the federal NDP, but he now has a shot at engineering the election of an NDP premier in British Columbia.
Mr. Topp is returning to his role as manager of the party's campaign for the next provincial election, scheduled for May 2013, the B.C. NDP says.
The former president of the federal party had the B.C. job in 2011 when it appeared rookie Premier Christy Clark might call a snap election. But Ms. Clark backed down, and Mr. Topp went national in his bid to succeed the late Jack Layton.
After Thomas Mulcair won the federal leadership, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix says he asked Mr. Topp about picking up where he left off.
"He agreed and I am very pleased," said Mr. Dix.
Mr. Topp is a rare outsider to this kind of leadership role in B.C. NDP campaigns. The last two were run by Gerry Scott, who also ran the 2011 campaign that saw Mr. Dix elected party leader.
Mr. Dix said he and Mr. Topp are in sync for the challenges ahead.
"He believes in the same kind of campaigning I do, which is propositional and putting forward a positive message, which doesn't sit back and expect governments to fall, but to be positive and thoughtful in campaigning," said Mr. Dix.
Mr. Topp, a key player in the federal NDP's Orange Crush surge in the 2011 federal election, is on the job now. "He's got other duties, but he's giving us some advice and assistance from afar," said Mr. Dix.
Mr. Dix laughed at the question of whether critics might tie Mr. Topp's leadership policies to the provincial NDP.
"We're not a party that is narrow in where we seek counsel, but the responsibility for the platform is ours."
Mr. Topp has never had much to say to the media about his work in B.C., preferring that Mr. Dix speak on the matter.
"I am now returning to this work and looking forward to it," he said in an e-mail.
Although he declined an interview, Mr. Topp wrote about his links to Mr. Dix and what he has been up to since the leadership race.
He wrote that he has known Mr. Dix for years. Both crossed paths in the 1990s when they had senior posts in the offices of former B.C. premier Glen Clark and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. Mr. Dix was chief of staff for Mr. Clark and Mr. Topp was deputy chief of staff for Mr. Romanow.
Mr. Topp gave no sign that he won't continue his work as executive director of ACTRA Toronto, and on several boards. He is also writing occasional columns for theglobeandmail.com.
Mr. Dix said the NDP's "modest and doable platform" is in the works. He has already committed to roll back corporate tax cuts to 2008 levels and announced official party opposition to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.
As premier, the fluently bilingual Mr. Dix said he would aim for a business-like relationship with Stephen Harper. "The Prime Minister is elected by the people of Canada and I respect that process even if I am not one of the people who voted for him." The NDP is on a roll after winning a pair of recent provincial by-elections, taking safe Liberal seats in the Lower Mainland and Chilliwack.
Provincewide, solid poll numbers would be good news for anyone running a campaign. For the Liberals, it has been long time since a poll offered positive news for the party, aiming for a fourth term next year.
The latest poll, out last week from Angus Reid Public Opinion, had the New Democrats at 50-per-cent support among decided voters, based on a survey of 802 adults. The Liberals were way back at 23 per cent and the B.C. Conservatives at 19 per cent. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have any relation to their federal namesakes.
Fifty per cent is rare, said Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco. "It's incredibly significant. If you're over 44-45 per cent, you can form the government and have a majority, depending on where the seats fall. [Fifty per cent]would lead to a massive, massive majority."
Ms. Clark, on a conference call last week during an Asian trade mission, gamely said the Liberals are not discouraged by the numbers.
"I think a lot of people are kind of girding their loins and getting ready for the toughest fight we've ever had," she said.
Ms. Clark noted that other premiers, including Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and, most recently, Alison Redford in Alberta, have proved the polls wrong.
That sense of a race in flux is a rare point of agreement with Mr. Dix, who is seeking to bring the NDP back to power for the first time since 2001.
"We've won three of the last 21 elections. Elections in B.C. are generally close. I work everyday as hard as I possibly can and take nothing for granted."