POLITICS

NDP Leadership: Nycole Turmel Says Candidates Will Get Long Leash

09/12/2011 05:49 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST
CP

When the NDP caucus meets in Quebec City this week, rules will be established to ensure some leadership candidates don’t get an unfair advantage and that the party appears united as much as possible during the contest.

"This is my role as leader, to establish some rules. And I intend to do it," Nycole Turmel, the NDP’s Interim leader, told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview late last week prior to the caucus meeting Tuesday through Thursday.

Most of the potential candidates who have so far expressed an interest in becoming the leader of the official Opposition are members of Parliament and a handful have important shadow cabinet positions that give them plenty of air-time during the House of Commons' daily question period and at the party’s frequent press conferences.

Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair is the House leader and co-deputy leader; Vancouver MP Libby Davies is the other co-deputy leader and the party’s health critic; Ottawa MP Paul Dewar is the NDP's foreign affairs critic, Burnaby MP Peter Julian is the industry critic and Dartmouth, N.S., MP Robert Chisholm is the international trade critic and the former NDP leader provincially — all have signaled they may be interested in throwing their hats in the ring.

Despite the lengthy list of important portfolio’s given to many potential leadership contestants, Turmel said she has no plans to stick them in the back rows or to try to mute them publicly.

"I understand the point that there is a challenge there," she said.

"If they (the caucus) feel that there is something wrong going on, they will address it and they will tell me. And as leader, I can discuss with the possible candidate but we are not there yet," she said.

As leadership contestants start debating each other, Turmel said she is well aware some candidates, including many sitting MPs, may highlight positions that are contrary to the ones taken by the caucus she leads.

That could mean the NDP will appear fractured, incoherent and divided as the six-month leadership race unfolds.

But, according to Turmel, there is only so much she can do.

"As long as they are not an official candidate, they will follow as usual what caucus decided. But when they are candidates, for sure they will represent their vision," she said.

Perhaps with that in mind, she said she won’t push candidates to declare themselves sooner rather than later.

"I cannot push them to declare earlier or later. It is their strategy. If I was running, I would decide myself what I want, but as I am not running I have to respect their decision. And myself, I would be upset if someone was pushing me to do something. So it is their decision, their strategy, and we need to respect (it)," she said.

Candidates will be able to formerly join the race on Thursday, September 15.

Turmel said she expects the leadership race will create great momentum for the party. Quebec MPs, and others from across the country, have already been tasked with going out and signing-up new members.

The party has less than 2,000 members in La Belle Province and no provincial party on which it can lean for support — although Turmel said she’d be quite pleased to see one established. So with the next NDP leader chosen by a one-member-one-vote system in Toronto on March 24, there is an increased incentive for candidates who need Quebec's support to get boots on the ground.

NEW PARLIAMENTARY SESSION

After the caucus wraps-up, Turmel's next task will be preparing for her face-off against Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the House of Commons resumes Sept. 19.

She said she’s looking forward to it.

"Whatever he tries, I’ll be ready for it," she said confidently.

"It’s not the best situation of the world. We would like Jack to be there, honestly, but he’s not there. So we don’t have the choice, we have to carry on what we have been elected for."

Turmel may have little parliamentary experience but she is no stranger to going head-to-head with the government. As the former president of one of the largest unions in Canada, she's been battling the federal government since Brian Mulroney’s Tories were in power in the late 1980s.

If she's concerned that the Liberal Party's interim leader Bob Rae, an impressive Parliamentary orator, will overshadow her, she's not showing it.

"I’ll agree we have different styles but Canadians elected us, so we will carry on what they want us to do… We are the opposition and we will make it clear," she said.

As for now, Turmel said has no plans to focus any of the NDP’s attention against attacking other opposition parties.

Her prime target, she said, is the Harper Conservatives.

"They are not in touch with the reality. They are not in touch with the fact that people need a job, and … a good job," she said. "I don’t believe that this government is looking (after) Canadians altogether."

TURMEL PLEDGES TO STAY LEADER

It will be a tough Parliamentary session for a neophyte, but Turmel has pledged to stay on as interim leader the party membership picks her replacement next March.

She told HuffPost she's not sure why Layton chose her but, when he contacted her for the position, he said her experience leading a large organization was a big factor.

"I can speak French for sure, English as much as I can," she said. Layton told her she had a capacity of bringing along people, of listening and building consensus around the table, she said.

"So outside that, I don't have a clue," she said. "All I remember, it was so emotional … I was in a state of shock, but I said, 'I will do whatever you need me to do,'" she recounted.

Turmel let it slip that Layton had told her in July she might have the job for longer than expected and that he might not be around in the near future.

"Layton only told me that in accepting the position of interim leader, it did not prevent me from running for the leadership. There was nothing in the rules of the party that prevented me from announcing my own candidacy. But — a big but — I am not going to go for it. I have no absolutely no interest," the 69-year-old said.