South Island NDP politicians look to federal leadership race

When federal NDP leader Jack Layton died in August, a major question loomed in the background.

When federal NDP leader Jack Layton died in August, a major question loomed in the background. Amid the praise and memorials, party members knew they would face a monumental task of finding someone to fill Layton’s shoes.

With the NDP leadership convention set for March 24, nine candidates have stepped forward to try and prove they deserve a chance to take the helm.

In Greater Victoria, NDP politicians have a long list of attributes they’re looking for in their next leader.

“They want to elect somebody who obviously has prime ministerial qualities, because Jack Layton left the party in its best position in its entire history,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, the only sitting NDP politician on the South Island who has not yet endorsed a candidate. “Unfortunately, we needed (Layton) to be well and to lead us into the next election, but his tragic death forced a difficult decision.”

Both Victoria MP Denise Savoie and Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison have thrown their support behind Peggy Nash a Toronto-area NDP MP who was in town this week.

“Her overall approach to keeping the economy moving and building consensus, that’s what I think is most important,” Garrison said. “She’s very strong on equality … and bringing business, labour and community together. That will have a positive economic impact.”

Savoie cited Nash’s “proven experience on economic issues” as reason for her endorsement.

Four of Greater Victoria’s five NDP MLAs are endorsing Brian Topp, the current president of the New Democrats. Though he is not an elected politician, Topp is favoured by Lana Popham (Saanich South), Carole James (Victoria-Beacon Hill), Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt-Royal Roads) and John Horgan (Malahat-Juan de Fuca).

Topp was in Saanich last week, touring a farm on Old West Saanich Road.

Karagianis says the NDP president’s pragmatic approach to tackling financial issues was key to her endorsement.

“I’m particularly impressed with Brian taking on the initiative of talking about how we will pay for things that we want to do in government,” she said. “We need to resolve some issues, like poverty, but he’s also clear about how we would pay for those things.”

Horgan’s support for Topp stems from a 20-year friendship the pair began while working on Parliament Hill.

“He’s a decent, solid guy. He’s extremely intelligent, he has a good grasp of policy and strategy politics, and he’s a personal friend. I overwhelmingly support him for leader,” Horgan said.

Popham, the provincial agriculture critic, says Topp has a good understanding of the agricultural issues in the country.

While Fleming is still undecided, he says he’s been impressed by Nash and Topp. He also named Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar and Thomas Mulcair as candidates he’s watching.

“Communities like the South Island are really going to be served most if we solidify ourselves as a political force that can replace the Conservatives in the next election,” Fleming said. “I want somebody who has an interest in seeing what we do here and where government co-ordination can help us with our ambitions and our goals as a region.”

The other candidates running for party leadership are Niki Ashton, Robert Chisholm, Romeo Saganash and Martin Singh.

kslavin@saanichnews.com