NDP leadership front-runner Brian Topp insisted Friday he wants a clean race, just as two of his supporters challenged the abilities of his potential opponent Thomas Mulcair.
Standing beside Topp, during an event to publicize their endorsements, Quebec MP Alain Giguere told reporters Mulcair, the party's lone MP in Quebec before the last election and a former provincial cabinet minister, wouldn't be able to win any seats outside Quebec.
"We must win 100 ridings in the next election, those 100 ridings won't come from Quebec," Giguere said, adding that Mulcair won't be able to deliver. "Not in English Canada," he said.
"Brian (Topp) is much better placed to do it," Giguere said.
"Thomas doesn't presently have the capacity to win in the rest of Canada," he repeated later in English. "I don't see what is the support for Thomas outside of the Quebec. I really don't see it."
Veteran NDP MP Yvon Godin also slammed Mulcair for suggesting candidates from Quebec would be at a disadvantage because the party has no provincial wing in the province.
Although the party has 59 of Quebec's 75 seats in the House of Commons, there are less than 1,700 party members in the province. The NDP's total membership is nearly 90,000 and every member will get one vote when a leader is picked at the convention on March 24.
Mulcair suggested Monday that perhaps the party could engage in a province-wide membership drive to ensure Quebec has more say.
"For me this makes no sense," Godin said enthusiastically. "There are people who want to present themselves in the leadership, well they have seven months to do their job. In Quebec, there are 59 MPs, they have seven months to go get members. It is not up to the party to take a decision to go to a specific province (to sell memberships)."
Godin added that he had never heard such an argument. "I've never seen this, I do not even know why this question was asked. It is not even normal that a question like this. It is not correct," he said.
Topp appeared slightly uncomfortable.
"I don't have anything negative to say about any of the other likely candidates," Topp said. "It is a fact, that the key challenge before us is to keep building the province of Quebec and then to build in the rest of the country."
He later added that he believed Mulcair had a profile in English Canada.
"He is well known across Canada, he will be a very good candidate across Canada," Topp said.
Quebec MP Jamie Nicholls, a Mulcair supporter, said he thought it was premature to declare a winner.
"It's too early in the race to say that one candidate or another won't be able to get support in one part of the country or another," he said. "I think Thomas Mulcair, when Canadians get to know him, will be a force all across Canada."