Dr. Dawg

Brian Topp for NDP leader?

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Come on.

The NDP leadership race is really down to four front-runners at this point: Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash. Three of them are MPs: one (Topp) is not.

Topp attracted some initial support, most notably from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, the powerful Steelworkers Union, and a handful of present and former NDP MPs. He’s a personable man, holds up well in debate, and has a long history with the NDP.

But it’s time to get serious.

Topp declined to present himself as a candidate in the upcoming by-election in the Toronto-Danforth riding left vacant by Jack Layton’s passing. Instead, he wants to run in Quebec after he wins the leadership.

There is so much wrong with this scenario that it’s difficult to list all the problems he’s creating for the party. I must declare interest as a Paul Dewar supporter, but my arguments could rightfully be made by the other front-runners and their supporters as well.

By the time the leadership convention takes place (late March), the NDP will have been without a leader for more than half a year. Topp proposes to fight a by-election, which requires, first of all, that a Quebec MP resign in his favour.

Assuming that happens, it is up to Stephen Harper to call the date of that by-election. He has six months to do that after a seat becomes vacant, and the by-election can be scheduled any time within the next six. Even a person of a more winsome disposition than the current Prime Minister would see an opportunity there, and might take full advantage of it.

The leader of the Official Opposition, then, could remain outside the House of Commons until next Fall—or even 2013. That’s well over a year after Layton passed away. More than a year before our leader can enter the political arena to focus and articulate the aspirations of ordinary working Canadians and their families. More than a year before he can rise in the House of Commons to take on the Prime Minister mano-a-mano.

We’ve already lost momentum with Jack’s untimely death. If a week is an eternity in politics, what is a year?

Topp supporters might argue that Layton himself only entered Parliament in 2004, after winning his leadership bid the year before. But there were no unknowns in that case. A federal election was looming, and Jack had stated from the outset that he would run in his home riding of Toronto-Danforth to unseat Liberal Dennis Mills. As a well-known, popular candidate with years of experience, he mounted an effective campaign, won convincingly, and held the seat thereafter.

Topp, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue where he’s going to run, or when. The next general election is three years away, and the current Prime Minister is not the weak and vacillating Paul Martin: every month some new horror is visited upon us. The NDP needs someone to hit the ground running, and the sooner the better.

But wait—there’s more.

If Topp runs in Quebec, what if he loses?

Think that’s impossible? Think again. He’s had no direct electoral experience whatsoever. He’s been a solid backroom boy, but to be an actual candidate requires a different skill-set, honed by hands-on experience that Topp has never had.

The new leader of the Bloc Québécois is a seasoned former MP, Daniel Paillé, who will almost certainly run against him. In the game of chess that is politics, why would the Conservatives run a strong candidate in that contest? Why would the Liberals?

If Topp goes down to defeat, just when does he get to play his active role as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Sometime in 2013, perhaps, if a safe seat can be found for him—just a couple of years before the next federal election, halfway through Stephen Harper’s current mandate. Or would he step down, throwing the party into another leadership race?

Has no one yet grasped the seriousness of this? While commentators have talked at length about various candidates’ alleged Achilles heels—personality quirks, fluency in French, and so on—Topp as party leader would be the Achilles heel of the NDP itself.

As my kids would say, get real. In May, 2011, the NDP made an historic breakthrough, the greatest since the party was founded in 1961. We’re on a roll. This is no time to be talking of suicide.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 26, 2012 10:31 AM.

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