VANCOUVER - Only two days into the federal NDP leadership campaign and candidate Brian Topp is very pleased with the support and unexpected attention he's gathered in his quest to replace Jack Layton.
Topp introduced four high-profile British Columbia New Democrat backers to reporters on the Vancouver waterfront Tuesday.
Former B.C. deputy premier Joy MacPhail and three current members of the B.C. legislature -- John Horgan, Michelle Mungall and Dawn Black -- stood behind Topp at the news conference.
Topp, who is currently the NDP president, said he was also pleased with a Conservative memo being circulated about him to party faithful suggesting he is too closely tied to big unions.
"I sent them a tweet this morning actually when I saw that. Here's what I said: 'Boys, thanks for the compliment. I'm so glad to see I'm making you nervous,'" he said laughing.
The memo calls Topp a union boss with deep union ties.
"Brian Topp will do anything -- including forming a reckless coalition with separatists --in order to gain power," the memo states.
Long before the last federal election, the Conservative Party began portraying former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as a man who couldn't be trusted and who was "just visiting" Canada.
Black, a former member of Parliament and current member of the B.C. legislature for New Westminster, said she worked closely with Topp during the coalition negotiations with the Liberals in 2008 and was impressed.
"He has the experience across the country that brought me to support him," Black said. "I know how smart he is, he's going to do just fine."
She agreed Topp, or any other new leader, has some very large shoes to fill in replacing Layton, who led the NDP to historic success in the last election by winning 103 seats.
"No one can be Jack. Let's be very clear on that. Jack is gone. It's very sad. We have to move on as a political party as a political movement, that's what Jack would want," she said. "I think Brian Topp will fill those shoes in his own way."
Topp said talk of a merger now with the Liberals would be a distraction, but that wouldn't mean throwing away Layton's policies of working with others to get things done.
But he said he very much regretted that a coalition could not be worked out back in 2008 after the Liberals walked away from talks.
"If they hadn't done so, Stephen Harper would have stopped being Prime Minister of Canada in 2008 and it's a great shame that happened."
The lesson learned from that is the NDP is prepared to work with others to get things done, and is open to accord arrangements with other parties to get things done, he said.
Topp is the first to announce his candidacy for the party leadership and when he stated his intentions on Monday, former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent stood beside him saying Topp is the most qualified candidate.
He has worked in NDP backrooms for decades, but has never run for public office.
Conspicuously absent from Topp's news conference was B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix.
Topp worked on Dix's provincial leadership campaign earlier this year and had been preparing the party for a possible provincial election until Premier Christy Clark announced there would not be an election this fall.
"Adrian Dix hasn't yet taken a position in the leadership race," Topp said. "We'll see what he does in the months to come."
The leadership convention is set to be held March 24 in Toronto.
Topp said he came to B.C. on his second day of his campaign because the province is the "heart and soul of our party."
"No one is going to become leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada without doing very well in British Columbia."
Topp, who is fluently bilingual and from Quebec, helped Layton craft Layton's last letter to Canadians before he died in August.