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NDP president Brian Topp, shown in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2011, is considered a potential front-runner in the race to replace Jack Layton as leader. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
NDP president Brian Topp, shown in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2011, is considered a potential front-runner in the race to replace Jack Layton as leader. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Leadership Race

NDP's Topp attacks Rae, takes stand against merger with Liberals Add to ...

NDP president Brian Topp is taking shots at Bob Rae for his failures as Ontario’s New Democratic premier in the 1990s, staking out a position against a merger with the Liberal Party in the upcoming race to replace Jack Layton.

In an interview as he nears a formal entry in the NDP leadership contest, Mr. Topp stressed his successful experience in Saskatchewan’s NDP government in the 1990s, while also embracing a strong pro-union stand that distinguishes him from another leadership contender, NDP House Leader Thomas Mulcair, who is a former provincial Liberal from Quebec.

The 51-year-old Mr. Topp said his party must be ready to take power in 2015, with the objective of following in the footsteps of successful NDP governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

“I respect what [former Ontario premier Bob Rae]tried to do in office, but I fear he was not successful in many important ways and I don’t think that the record of that government is a model that we’re going to follow in the NDP,” Mr. Topp said.

By attacking Mr. Rae’s time as premier from 1990 to 1995 as an “electoral liability” to this day for the federal NDP, Mr. Topp showed a willingness to directly challenge his two main opponents on the federal stage.

First off, he is taking a swipe at Mr. Rae, who went on to join the Liberal Party of Canada, of which he is now interim leader. Secondly, Mr. Topp is working to inoculate his own party from Conservative attempts to brand New Democrats as bad managers of public funds. To do so, he is arguing that the Ontario experiment with the NDP was an aberration in a long list of successful provincial New Democratic governments elsewhere in the country.

“We must not reproduce federally what happened to us in the province of Ontario – a single term in office not viewed as a success, and a very long period in opposition afterward,” Mr. Topp said as he laid out his hopes for the NDP.

The party’s hierarchy will set the rules of the leadership race on Friday, after which Mr. Topp and a number of NDP caucus members will decide whether to officially become candidates. In particular, the NDP federal council will pick a date and a location for the convention, establish a spending limit and decide whether to provide labour unions with a predetermined portion of the vote.

In the meantime, the various contenders are jockeying for endorsements and working to lay out their vision for the party, with Mr. Mulcair having already stated that he has much support in caucus for his own bid.

Mr. Topp said that from its position in Official Opposition, the NDP will spend the next four years working to get ready to form the next government. While he was raised in Quebec, Mr. Topp frequently referred to his experience in the Saskatchewan government of Roy Romanow in the 1990s as he emphasized the importance for the NDP of being ready to have a strong first mandate in Ottawa.

He added he was closely involved with the B.C. NDP in recent months, arguing that after a long struggle, the party was set to win a provincial election that many had expected for this fall.

“New Democrats know a lot about good government. Part of our job in the next four years … is to carefully learn from that tradition and apply it federally,” he said.

Mr. Topp, who currently heads ACTRA in Toronto, said he waited for his two boys to become teenagers before launching a bid for public office. He is seen as one of the favourites in the leadership race because he was a close adviser to Mr. Layton, who died last month after taking the NDP to a second-place showing in the House of Commons on May 2.

Mr. Topp was involved in writing Mr. Layton’s final letter, which, at the former leader’s funeral, was hailed as a manifesto to social democracy.

In particular, Mr. Topp said the NDP must continue to work closely with Canada’s union movement. In so doing, he differentiated himself from Mr. Mulcair, who has called for the abolition of the reserved votes for unions at the leadership convention.

Mr. Mulcair, who comes from the left wing of the Quebec Liberal Party, said there was no need to offer preferential treatment to unions at the expense of other key elements of the social-democratic movement, such as environmental groups.

But Mr. Topp said organized labour is at the heart of the NDP’s historical successes. “The idea that the labour movement is just another [non-governmental organization]is not a way to keep building our party,” he said, calling the movement a “foundational partner” of the NDP. “We don’t have to become Liberals to win.”

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