Brian Topp is taking time to raise his profile in British Columbia, where support for the NDP is strong and the battle to lead it could be fierce, while the others who may join him on the party's leadership ballot are occupied with their jobs as federal MPs.
But the spotlight now shining on the man who aspires to fill the large hole left by the death of Jack Layton has also made him a target for attacks by the Conservative political machine.
At a news conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Mr. Topp, NDP president and an executive director at the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), found himself fielding questions about a memo sent hours earlier to Conservatives MPs and party faithful asking: "How could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians, when he is so tied to big union special interests?"
Taking a page from their attacks on former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, the Tories also warned that "Brian Topp will do anything – including forming a wreckless [sic] coalition with separatists – in order to gain power."
Asked about the matter, Mr. Topp happily quoted a message he sent out Tuesday morning on the social networking site Twitter: "To my PMO friends: I guess I worry you."
As for his union associations, he said: "I am a proud executive director of a trade union. I am proud of the work we do. I am proud of the trade-union movement. We speak for working people in our work everyday. We are founding partners of the New Democratic Party of Canada and we are regularly elected in many provinces with that being a reality of our party, and we can do that federally."
Mr. Topp, 51, was in on the West Coast to demonstrate the depth of his support as the sitting politicians who say they are "considering" a run for the leader's job were travelling to Quebec City for a two-day caucus meeting. He is not planning to attend the meeting because he is focused on his leadership bid.
He arrived at the first stop of his get-to-know-me campaign flanked by Joy MacPhail and Dawn Black, both former leaders of the B.C. New Democratic Party, along with current MLAs John Horgan and Michelle Mungall. A day earlier, in announcing his candidacy in Ottawa, he had appeared with party stalwart Ed Broadbent.
Mr. Topp said he had come to British Columbia because New Democrats in the province will be integral in choosing the next leader, but offered no specific policy proposals besides defending his commitment to more seats for B.C. and other parts of Canada as an "appropriate Canadian compromise."
"This is going to be a long campaign," he said, suggesting he will eventually talk in detail about such issues as fiscal policy, health care, protecting the environment while creating jobs, and restoring Canada's "good name in the world" – referring to the federal Conservative stand on climate change as detrimental to Canada's image.
Thomas Mulcair, who established a beachhead for the party in Quebec when he won a by-election in Montreal in 2007, and then helped create the massive NDP surge in that province during this year's election, is also interested in his party's top position.
Mr. Mulcair said Tuesday that he is creating an organization to evaluate his chances, and that an official announcement will be made "in the coming weeks."
Other New Democrat MPs are also pondering their options.
Paul Dewar, the party's defence critic, said Tuesday he is taking time to talk to potential supporters before making a decision about joining the race. "You want to have a good team and you want to have money," he said. "Both of those things would be important."
Many of his caucus colleagues are making similar calculations. Libby Davies, Robert Chisholm, Romeo Saganash, Peggy Nash, Peter Julian, Megan Leslie and Nathan Cullen all indicated this week that they are still considering a run.
With reports from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec and Jane Taber in Ottawa