OTTAWA — Whoever is elected to replace Jack Layton as the NDP’s new federal leader on Saturday will have to work quickly to ensure the party's caucus is united, interim leader Nycole Turmel said Wednesday.
“Caucus unity is the first challenge for a new leader,” Turmel told reporters during her last official press conference as NDP chief.
“There is always a danger when there is change, when there is a new vision, there might always be division,” she said. “If you have a caucus that works together well then the agenda that you’re elected on can be promoted ... that’s what’s important.”
Turmel insisted, however, that no matter what happens on March 24 at the convention in Toronto, she is sure the party will come out united.
“I am confident and I am sure that Sunday we will rally around the leader.”
Layton, Turmel said, had not been the favourite or a sitting MP when he was elected in 2003 but still managed to bring the party to great heights. Layton, however, obtained a decisive victory, winning more than 50 per cent of the vote on the first ballot and was supported by party heavyweights, such as former leader Ed Broadbent.
That's not the case this time around. Political observers expect no one will win on the first ballot and it may take several rounds before members settle on a new leader.
In this race, Broadbent has thrown his support behind backroom strategist Brian Topp and last week publicly questioned whether the perceived front-runner, Thomas Mulcair, has the leadership skills required to keep the NDP team united.
Layton's mother, Doris Layton, has also endorsed Topp but Turmel warned members not to take this as a sign that Layton himself had chosen a successor. To her knowledge, she said, he did not pick anyone.
"He never said anything," she said.
In any case, Turmel suggested, endorsements don't matter.
“It doesn’t matter. It is the members who decide. We have 130,000 members in our party right now. All of them are entitled to vote. It is (their) decision,” she said.
For her part, Turmel refused to say which of the NDP’s seven leadership candidates she is rooting for.
The NDP has prepared a national campaign to introduce their new leader to Canadians, Turmel added. The new leader will travel across the country and the party is also contemplating television ads.
When asked if the NDP is doing this to define their new leader before the Conservatives do it for them through attack ads, Turmel responded: “The Tories will do whatever they want to do, for us it is to promote the new leader.” The Tories released an attack ad aimed at interim Liberal leader Bob Rae earlier in the week.
The NDP are flying high after holding on to Layton’s former riding, Toronto—Danforth, in a by-election Monday with more than 59 per cent of the vote.
But the party has seen a huge slip in Quebec, where it obtained the bulk of its seats in the House of Commons in last spring's federal election.
“Polls are polls, we have three years to build and be ready for 2015,” Turmel said. “I’m not worried at this point.”
As she prepares to exit as interim leader, Turmel told reporters she won’t miss the stress of her job or the stress that journalists caused her.
“What I won’t miss is the daily stress. I admit it, I knew it before but I hadn’t experienced it at this level. The stress a leader feels regarding emotions, physical stress, I won’t miss that,” said Turmel in response to a question from The Huffington Post Canada.
“The stress comes from everywhere — you guys are included,” a relaxed looking Turmel said. “I can say it honestly, you’re included.”
The stress has come fom all sides, Turmel said.
“Well, regarding working with a team, you always have to be one step ahead of the game, one step ahead of the news. In the House we have to meet the expectations of Canadians and we also need to ensure that the government listens and understand and creates something rather than a government that destroys everything. That is the daily stress, so you go home at night and you say, how can we attack them to ensure that they finally listen to Canadians,” she said.
She noted she will miss the NDP’s team in the leader’s office but said she is also looking forward to spending more time taking care of her Hull—Aylmer riding.
Turmel, however, could remain in the job if Topp or Martin Singh, both unelected candidates, win the leadership and ask her to stay on.
She will do whatever is asked of her, Turmel, ever the good soldier said.
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