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NDP Leadership Race: Quebec Members May Punch Above Their Weight In Choosing Jack Layton's Successor

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Paul Dewar, Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair at the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (CP)
Paul Dewar, Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair at the NDP leadership debate in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2011. (CP)

Although voters in Quebec propelled the NDP to Official Opposition status in last spring's federal election, more than half of the party's members hail from British Columbia and Ontario. But that doesn't mean the 12,226 New Democrats from Quebec won't play an important role when the next leader is chosen on March 24.

Though it was not the 20,000 members that Thomas Mulcair had originally hoped to sign up, the NDP has made a significant leap in party membership within Quebec. The NDP claimed less than 1,700 members in the province when the leadership campaign began.

But with less than 1 in 10 NDP members coming from Quebec, a province that makes up 23 per cent of Canada's population and 57 per cent of the NDP's representation in the House of Commons, the figure is relatively modest. Over 14,000 members voted when the Bloc Québécois held their leadership convention in December, despite the party holding only four seats in Ottawa. And the enthusiasm for the NDP race pales in comparison to the contest that resulted in André Boisclair becoming the leader of the Parti Québécois in 2005, when over 105,000 members voted.

Nevertheless, the NDP's Quebec membership could punch above its weight. The province's 10,000 or so new members signed up in recent months should be among the most likely to vote and Thomas Mulcair holds a clear advantage with those new Quebec members

According to Elections Canada, Mulcair raised almost $70,000 in donations from Quebec in the last three months of 2011. More recent data is unavailable, but Mulcair has by far the greatest support within the Quebec caucus: 33 MPs have endorsed him, including Robert Aubin, the MP for Trois-Rivières and one of the NDP's leaders in the province. Mulcair has the support of Phil Edmonston, the NDP's first MP from Quebec, as well as Julius Grey and Charles Taylor, two influential academics. He also scored 67 per cent recognition in Quebec in an Abacus Data poll from January.

Brian Topp is likely running second in the province, though well behind Mulcair. The bilingual Topp raised roughly $6,000 in Quebec in 2011 and registered 31 per cent recognition among Quebec voters. He has the support of five MPs from the province, including Françoise Boivin and Alexandre Boulerice. And though Mulcair is the only resident Quebecer left in the race, both he and Topp trace their roots to the province.

After Topp and Mulcair it is difficult to determine who might have claim to the next most support in Quebec. Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar, who have scored well in recent Canada-wide polls and who both have significant support from within the party, together only raised some $4,000 from the province and scored between 10 and 12 per cent in name recognition. But Nash has the support of five NDP MPs from Quebec as well as the endorsement of Pierre Ducasse, an important player in the party's Quebec organization. Meanwhile, Dewar has two Quebec MPs endorsing him. One of them is Hélène Laverdière, who defeated Gilles Duceppe in his riding.

The NDP's Quebec membership is likely to go for Thomas Mulcair, but a significant proportion might also opt for Brian Topp. And while British Columbians and Ontarians make up most of the party's membership and might be expected to support home-grown talents like Nathan Cullen, Nash and Dewar in large numbers, the ability of a candidate to repeat Jack Layton's stunning success in the predominantly francophone province might be the deciding factor. Quebec's influence on the race may be far greater than the sum of its members.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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