Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, the perceived front-runner in the race to replace the late Jack Layton as leader of the NDP, says he'll continue to "take the high road" in his campaign, despite mounting criticism from rivals.
"You've never heard me say why somebody should not vote for one of the other candidates," Mulcair told CBC News Network in an interview from Montreal's St. Patrick's Day parade.
"All along we've said why people might want to consider voting for us."
Mulcair's plan to modernize the party has come under heavy criticism not only from party rivals, but most recently from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
Broadbent, who is supporting veteran strategist Brian Topp in his bid for the leadership of the NDP, came out swinging against Mulcair last Thursday.
The former leader and NDP heavyweight not only questioned Mulcair's commitment to social democratic values but also his leadership and ability to unite the party caucus.
When asked to respond to that last point, Mulcair pointed to the 43 NDP MPs who are currently supporting his campaign.
"The very fact that that many of my colleagues honour me with their support is the best answer I can give to that question," replied Mulcair.
Broadbent decided to endorse Topp early in the race, crediting much of the party's success to Jack Layton's working hand-in-hand with Topp.
The party strategist, who is also from Quebec but has never held an elected position, has repeatedly said that Mulcair's vision for modernizing the party would move the party over to the centre.
But in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada's Sunday political flagship program Les Coulisses du Pouvoir, Mulcair said he has never used that expression.
"Others have used it for me, and attributed it to me," he said.
"What I have said from the start, however, is we have to bring the centre towards the NDP," said Mulcair, who sees a distinction between the two positions.
Topp insists Mulcair is muddying the waters.
"If there are two Liberal parties in front of the people of Canada at the next election, they'll vote for the real one," Topp said during the last all-candidates debate in Vancouver. "We're condemned to be ourselves."
Mulcair, who is backed by a well-financed campaign, said he's confident the results will be there when party members meet to elect a leader at a convention in Toronto on March 23 and 24.
The NDP will have a new leader in time to respond to the Conservatives' first majority budget, which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said will be tabled on March 29.
Mulcair told CBC News he wants to face the Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of the tabling of the budget and show Canadians the Conservatives have been "abysmal managers of the public purse."
"I want to be standing up to Stephen Harper in the House of Commons, asking him the tough questions that will start defining to Canadians all that they've done wrong socially, environmentally and economically," he said.
On Friday, CBC News learned that 25,000 New Democrats have already cast their ballots for a new leader using advance voting which began on March 1.
But with 128,351 NDP members eligible to vote, more than 80 per cent of the membership has yet to vote.
The other candidates vying for the leadership of the NDP are Niki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash and Martin Singh.
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