Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm has ended his campaign to replace Jack Layton as NDP leader.
Chisholm told The Huffington Post the response to his inability to speak French led him to conclude that his campaign was simply unwinnable.
“I'm not stupid, I knew it was going to be tough. I said so early on. I made a commitment, re-stated my commitment that I’d made to my constituents back in May that I would learn to speak French but what became apparent was that New Democrats, who are going to be voting for the new leader, feel that I need to be fluent in French by March 24 and that is just not on,” Chisholm said.
“This has never been about me, it has always been about winning and putting a winning campaign together and if I’m not going to win, there is no point in me being in the race, I’ll just be a distraction.”
Chisholm entered the race believing his leadership experience, his four years leading the NDP in Nova Scotia and two years as leader of the opposition in the province’s legislature, would be valuable to the federal party as it struggles to connect with Canadians in the wake of Layton’s death. He believed his experience could make up for his lack of French.
Wednesday, Chisholm said he still feels that way, but that it became clear during his trips across the country that NDP members do not share his view.
“(They) feel it is imperative that the next leader be able to speak both official languages fluently from day one and that cannot include me — that rules me out,” he said.
During the first NDP leadership debate in December, Chisholm was the only candidate who had to rely on simultaneous interpretation to get through the hour-long French portion. His cringe-inducing performance led several newspaper columnists to suggest he should resign.
CHISHOLM TALKS ABOUT LACK OF FRENCH AFTER FIRST NDP DEBATE
The Nova Scotia MP said he's been building up to the decision for several weeks, but that it wasn't until he was back home and "chewing things" over with his wife that he decided to pull the plug. With 59 NDP MPs from Quebec, Chisholm acknowledged, French trumps leadership.
“It’s not that leadership isn’t important but that French is critical,” he said.
For now, Chisholm is not throwing his support behind any of the other eight leadership contenders. It’s clear he still believes he has the best leadership experience and he’s looking for someone who can bring similar skills to the table.
He plans to refocus his attention on supporting NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel, the rest of the caucus and working on constituency matters.
Chisholm said Wednesday he hasn't spoken to Turmel, but is ready to do "whatever is asked of me," whether or not that includes returning to the NDP’s front bench as critic for international trade.
He will, however, need to spend some time fundraising to pay off the debts he's collected during his leadership bid.
Chisholm paid a $15,000 non-refundable fee to join the race and spent more money crisscrossing the country.
“I got in, now I’m getting out, now I’m prepared to pay my bills — once I raise some more money,” he said, smiling. “Over the next number of weeks, we’ll tally it all up and cash all the cheques and see where we are at … but I’ll have to raise more money, I think that’s pretty clear, I’ve got a bit of a debt. But we’ll get that done too.”
Chisholm told HuffPost he is not disappointed by the turn of events.
“I would have been disappointed in myself if I had not taken on the challenge, if I had sat back and said no, no, people won’t be nice to me, and it’s going to be tough, and I can’t do this. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t done it because I believe in this," he said. "I worked many, many years on behalf of this party, and constituents and making our communities stronger. And sometimes the way that you think, isn't the way that others think.”
Although his Christmas plans have changed, Chisholm won't be spending time in French immersion but will rather take a week off with his wife to celebrate their 31st anniversary, he is still determined to learn Canada's other official language. And, he told HuffPost, he's not closing any doors on future leadership bids.
"You never know," he said.
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