10/28/2011 10:06 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

NDP Leadership: Peggy Nash Becomes First Woman To Enter Race

CP File

OTTAWA - The first woman to enter the crowded race to succeed former NDP leader Jack Layton cast herself Friday as a centrist option with strong economic credentials at a time of recessionary fears.

MP Peggy Nash launched her bid for the party's leadership by promising to make the economy work for all Canadians, not just the few at the top.

She became the seventh aspirant for the leadership of the New Democratic party and an eighth, Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm, is expected to announce Sunday that he will also throw his hat in the ring.

The crush of candidates raises the possibility of a dark-horse candidate coming up from the middle of the pack and winning the contest in a one-person, one-vote campaign. Alison Redford won the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party and became premier of the province using this kind of scenario.

Nash, 60, is fluently bilingual. She may be positioning herself as her party's compromise candidate if early prognostications put former party president Brian Topp and Quebec MP Tom Mulcair as the two frontrunners.

The Toronto MP and NDP finance critic said choices about leadership are critical at a time of financial instability and volatile change.

"Small businesses including in our neighbourhood are struggling, people are losing their jobs and personal debt is higher than at any point in Canadian history," she said, pointing to the European financial crisis, the American debt ceiling and humanitarian crises in Africa.

Nash's French and her background as a union negotiator give her strengths in packed field of candidates, said fellow New Democrat Joe Comartin.

"She's fluently bilingual, she’s strong in the labour movement. That's going to provide her, I think, with some substantial strength. So yes, she's certainly competitive in the front row."

Peter Julian, a British Columbia New Democrat, welcomed Nash's entry into the race and said it could inspire other women to seek the party leadership.

"Given that 40 per cent of our caucus is composed of women, I think it’s important to have one, two, three, four, many women in the race," said Julian.

"I think that’s extremely important that we have — the diversity of the NDP caucus is reflected in the leadership race we're going through."

Nash said she was drawing inspiration from the two-week old Occupy Toronto protest in a downtown park that was spawned from the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

She said she's spoken to people camped out in tents and has been moved by their sense of hope and appetite for reform.

"Their's are not vague and unfocused concerns. They arise from very real crises, crises that every one of us are facing, crises of social injustice and wild inequality, crises of the 99 per cent versus the one per cent."

Nash said an NDP prime minister would keep the Canadian economy stable and even make it stronger.

Several other candidates have come forward to replace Layton, who succumbed to cancer this past summer after leading the NDP to its historic political breakthrough in the spring federal election.

Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar and a little-known Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh have announced their leadership bids.

Chisholm, a former leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, is considered an effective political communicator but he will have to answer questions about his lack of French in a field that is now studded with bilingual candidates.

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