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B.C. New Democrats’ date for leadership elections could rule out promising candidates

NDP MP Nathan Cullen rises on a point of order following question period in the House of Commons Wednesday December 5, 2012 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. New Democrats are proposing to elect their next leader on May 25, 2014, a date some have suggested may rule out some promising candidates outside the party caucus.

Nathan Cullen, a New Democrat MP who is considering a leadership bid, has said an early 2014 vote would be too soon for him to resolve some files and mount a campaign, adding that other promising candidates face the same difficulty.

The date has been recommended by the party's executive council, but hinges on approval from the provincial council, a party source said.

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The May date was picked, said the source, as a compromise between New Democrats who want an early vote and others asking for more time.

One complication is securing a venue for the convention to elect a successor to Adrian Dix, who led the party to unexpected defeat in the recent provincial election and has said he will step down as soon as a replacement is named.

Before the election campaign, the New Democrats had a polling lead of up to 20 points but it faded in the face of a Liberal campaign focused on jobs and the economy.

Marcella Munro, an NDP strategist who has supported MLA Mike Farnworth, a past leadership candidate, said May works because seven months should be enough time for any candidate to organize a campaign.

"If you want to be the leader of the B.C. NDP, that's what you should be focusing on," Ms. Munro said. "If you're serious about wanting to lead the party, it shouldn't matter if [the leadership vote] is in seven months or 14 months."

Waiting until 2015 would be a "gift" for the governing B.C. Liberals, Ms. Munro said, because there would be no full-time leader to take them on.

Mr. Farnworth, a cabinet minister in NDP governments of the 1990s, has yet to decide whether he will run again. He came second to Mr. Dix in the 2011 leadership vote.

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Victoria-area MLA Rob Fleming, who is considering a leadership bid, said 2015 is way too long for the NDP to be without a leader and that the wait would damage the party.

"I think 2014 is when we have to make a decision – certainly no later than [May] 25," he said, adding that "2015 is problematic not just for our party but for British Columbia. It means the opposition won't be focused."

Mr. Cullen, who represents Skeena-Bulkley Valley and is the NDP house leader in Parliament, said in an interview earlier this week that he and some other promising prospects need time to settle their current professional obligations.

"If you're looking for folks of substance and name recognition and leaders right now, asking them to drop everything is much more difficult for them than it might be for others," he said.

He said the later into 2014 the convention is held, the more likely he would be to run, adding the prospect of such a commitment opens wider if the vote is held in 2015.

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