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Patrick B. Stogran at a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday Aug 17, 2010.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The collegial race to lead the federal NDP received an injection of drama this week with the announcement that former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran is now a candidate.

The New Democrats need something to turn the eyes of Canadian voters their way as they languish below 20 per cent in public opinion polls. And Mr. Stogran, whose frenetic patterns of speech and apparent lack of interest in sticking to the NDP script, could stir the placid waters.

The contest to succeed Tom Mulcair is in a bit of a holding pattern as the party waits for the British Columbia election on May 9 and for the federal Conservatives to elect their leader on May 27. There is hope among New Democrats that, by the end of next month, their leadership fight will gain a national spotlight.

Other candidates are spending this time quietly touring the country and trying to lock up support at the local level. But Mr. Stogran is eager to get into the fray.

"Did you see the two debates?" he asked at a news conference last week to announce his candidacy. "This is one of the reasons why I actually made the plunge. I actually reached out to the party and said how can I interrupt things?"

The debates that were held in Ottawa and Montreal saw the four main contenders – MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian – chat congenially about social-democratic values and offer many words of agreement about each other's policies and positions. There were no hard hits like those dished out at similar Conservative events.

Mr. Stogran is unlikely to adhere to that pattern. When asked why he chose to run for the NDP leadership before trying to win a seat as an MP, he said most politicians are "first followers" – supporters whose job is to make a leader's ideas credible.

"I don't want to be a first follower," Mr. Stogran said. "I've got to be in charge because I want to break the system. I want to set the conditions for success of the NDP so that there are no longer two parties [the Liberals and the Conservatives] controlling the agenda."

Karl Belanger, the former interim national director of the party and the former principal secretary to Mr. Mulcair, said he expects Mr. Stogran to shake things up.

"His approach is counter to type for an NDP candidate at this stage," Mr. Belanger said. "He has a no-nonsense approach, he comes from a military background, he's been known to speak his mind and he will not hold back. That's not his style. So that might force some of the other candidates to take a clearer stand on some of the issues."

The four MPs who are in the race have mixed views about whether the gloves will come off before October.

Mr. Angus has been consulting with Canadians across the country and says his campaign will focus on the "growing economic divide." The first debates were about establishing the ground work, he said. Going forward, "there's going to be a lot more testing of ideas."

Mr. Julian says he has differentiated himself from the others by taking a hard line against the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines. "I know the other candidates, I know how effective they have been. So I think there is an enormous mutual respect that is there, but there are clear issues that are different."

Ms. Ashton says she has been the only candidate to say the NDP must stay well to the left of the Liberals in the coming election. "I think there is a real sense that the NDP needs to find its way," she said. But "if people are expecting the same kind of dynamics as the Conservative race, I don't think they will find it here."

Mr. Caron, who says he has distinguished himself from the others by proposing a basic minimum income for all Canadians, does believe the discussion will get more heated. "I expect the next debates will be more robust, indeed more rough," Mr. Caron said. But "we are all in this together. We know what it means to be NDP, to be a social democrat and that is why there is so much agreement."

There is a fifth candidate in the race named Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury, a Montreal resident who is relatively unknown in NDP circles and who says he wants to make life better for Canadians. Mr. El-Khoury's entry is unlikely to affect the established tone.

Mr. Strogran's might.

And there is still time for other leadership hopefuls to declare their intentions.

New Democrats pushed for a long campaign to encourage outsiders to jump in, said Mr. Belanger. "There is one now. He is a serious candidate. So it will be interesting to see how all these people react now that their wish has been granted."

The NDP’s justice critic says the legal-marijuana legislation unveiled Thursday by the Liberal government is “long overdue.”

The Canadian Press