03/21/2012 02:28 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Caucus unity a priority for next NDP leader, Turmel says

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent's swiping of leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair last week isn't causing division in the party's caucus, interim leader Nycole Turmel said Wednesday.

Turmel told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa that the caucus is united and everyone is ready to stand behind whoever is elected on Saturday.

Broadbent took the unusual step last week in several media interviews of not only promoting his own choice for leader, Brian Topp, but making it very clear he is concerned about the party's future if Mulcair is at its helm.

Mulcair is considered a frontrunner in the race, competing against Topp, Niki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash and Martin Singh.

Turmel, who has led the party since Jack Layton's death in August, did admit however that a leadership race poses risks to caucus unity.

"There is always a danger when there is change, when there is a new vision there might always be division, that must be recognized," she said. "It will be up to the new leader in his or her message, in his or her approach to determine and to ensure that the caucus is the priority."

Turmel said she is not concerned, however, about her caucus sticking together.

"I am confident and I am sure that Sunday we will rally behind the new leader," she said.

The NDP's two-day leadership convention begins Friday in Toronto. More than 40,000 members have already voted using advance online or mail-in ballots. There are 131,000 members eligible to vote for the next leader of the Official Opposition.

Candidates are busy campaigning this week and encouraging members to vote. Dewar issued a press release saying he has picked up the support of two Sikh student groups in Ontario. Dewar has worked hard to drive support from the Sikh community away from Singh, who is Sikh, even running ads on Punjabi radio stations.

Mulcair was asked how he would maintain caucus unity in the wake of the race at a campaign event in Ottawa on Tuesday night, and responded that he has more caucus endorsements than all the other candidates combined, and that he's run an upbeat and positive campaign.