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lysiane gagnon

Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair plans to inaugurate his leadership campaign on Oct. 13 in Montreal. His jumping into the fray will add much excitement, and an element of suspense, in a contest that seemed to be over from the start after NDP president Brian Topp's early candidacy was supported by the party's most respected personalities – elder statesman Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, arguably the most successful of the Dippers who led a provincial government.

Mr. Mulcair will compensate for the quality of Mr. Topp's endorsements by quantity. One can expect that, when he announces his candidacy, he'll be surrounded by dozens of supporters, including a large number of MPs, in order to appear as the candidate propelled by a groundswell against Mr. Topp, whom Mr. Mulcair's backers call "the candidate of the apparatchik."

Mr. Mulcair, of course, didn't wait to be a formal candidate to go on the offensive. In a radio interview in September, he reproached Mr. Topp for having "never been elected to anything in his life," a charge that points to his adversary's major weakness. Indeed, Mr. Topp has never run for office and is vying for the tough job of Official Opposition leader without ever having been under the gun.

By contrast, Mr. Mulcair's biggest asset is that he's an experienced parliamentarian, although mostly outside the NDP (he spent 13 years as a provincial Liberal MNA before joining the NDP in 2007).

Thanks to his exposure as deputy leader in the House of Commons, he's better known to the public than Mr. Topp, who has always worked in the backroom and doesn't exude much charisma. Mr. Mulcair is also a combative debater and knows how to fight an election (winning the riding of Outremont, a perennial Liberal bastion, for the NDP was no ordinary feat). And he's a native speaker in both official languages.

But Mr. Mulcair faces an uphill battle. The NDP leader will be elected by party members, and Mr. Mulcair has almost no electoral base. Although Quebec NDP MPs form 60 per cent of the parliamentary caucus, the province counts for less than 2 per cent of the party's total membership.

Mr. Mulcair will face other problems. Described in the Montreal Gazette as "a man known for his strong views and short fuse" and for his "bull in a china shop methods," he's prone to abrasive outbursts and has been accused of not being a team player. This is why Quebec Premier Jean Charest demoted him in 2006 from his environment post, a move that led to Mr. Mulcair's angry resignation.

Mr. Mulcair often feuded with his federal counterpart, Stéphane Dion, going as far as saying publicly that dealing with Mr. Dion made him understand the sovereigntists. In 2002, as a member of the Liberal opposition, he accused former Parti Québécois minister Yves Duhaime of influence peddling, and called him a "Péquiste slut" whom he couldn't "wait to see in jail." Mr. Duhaime sued him for defamation and was awarded $95,000.

The day after Osama bin Laden was killed, Mr. Mulcair told the CBC he was skeptical of Washington's official story. When the interviewer asked him whether photos of the al-Qaeda leader's body should be published, Mr. Mulcair said he doubted that such photos existed. The NDP quickly dispatched its foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, to dissociate the party from Mr. Mulcair's confused musings, which he later blamed on weariness due to the election campaign.