10/21/2011 02:14 EDT | Updated 12/21/2011 05:12 EST

NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp wants McGill to settle workers strike

MONTREAL - NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp returned to his alma mater on Friday to lend support to striking employees at McGill University.

He also urged the university's administration to focus on negotiations instead of lawyers and injunctions.

Topp joined several hundred support staff on the picket line across the street from the main university entrance in downtown Montreal.

About 1,700 non-academic employees have been on strike for eight weeks.

Topp told the noisy crowd he was a former student of "this beautiful university" and was proud to be with them.

During his brief speech, the NDP leadership hopeful urged his "old friends at McGill University" to settle the bitter dispute.

"All the effort that you're putting into lawyers and to injunctions to tell people that they can't peacefully protest, spend it at the table and do a reasonable settlement and do it now!" Topp said.

He was also asked by one reporter if, as a leadership candidate, he should be taking sides in a labour dispute.

"The New Democratic Party is a party that stands for the working people and we're friends of working people everywhere," he replied.

On Thursday, the striking employees halted work on a new McGill University superhospital, which has been described as Quebec's biggest construction site.

They set up a picket line at the entrance to the site and construction workers refused to cross it.

Thomas Mulcair, considered to be Topp's main opponent in the NDP leadership race, attended a rally by the McGill workers during the first weeks of their strike.

The NDP's Quebec lieutenant is also a former McGill student.

Topp was joined at Friday's demonstration by Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, and Michel Arsenault, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour.