Three prominent New Democrats threw their support behind leadership candidate Brian Topp Friday when the political strategist and former labour leader toured through Kamloops.
Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali, three-time federal candidate Michael Crawford and constituency association president Gary Worth said they're backing Topp in the leadership election to be held in March.
"Nobody's going to be elected leader without doing well in B.C.," Topp said. "We're talking with people about what our party is all about."
After running the B.C. NDP's campaign in last fall's provincial election and being elected federal party president in June, Topp was the first to declare his candidacy as a successor to the late Jack Layton. He is the perceived frontrunner and the first candidate to visit the city.
"Nobody could replace Jack Layton. Not even Jack Layton could replace Jack Layton," he said, pointing out that Layton's popular appeal developed through his years as leader. "What we can do is carry on with his work."
Topp has already drawn significant support from party stalwarts, such as former leader Ed Broadbent, even though he has no parliamentary experience. He supported Broadbent when he joined the party more than 30 years ago. Two former B.C. NDP leaders, Carol James and Dawn Black, are also supporting Topp.
"It's about turning the lights back on in Ottawa and standing up for seniors — helping seniors live at home with dignity," he said while visiting the Centre for Seniors Information at Northills Shopping Centre. Brenda Provost, centre manager, made her case for stable funding of home-care programs for seniors.
"By supporting programs like this, we are saving money for the public sector and helping people live with dignity."
He made the most provocative promise of the race to date when last week he advocated higher personal income taxes for wealthy Canadians. Some saw that as a bold and laudable promise while others wondered if it might hinder the party in its ambition of forming the next government.
"I think the good people of Kamloops and B.C. agree," Topps said. "We've got billions of dollars lying around. There are more important things to do with that money. I think that is fairly widely agreed to in our party and by the people of Canada."
It was clear from the brief media scrum in Kamloops, that Topp links the Occupy protests worldwide with political potential. He said he supports their right to speak out.
"The playbook has gone too far," he said, citing an ever-widening disparity between rich and poor. "The very wealthy people of the country are hording too much wealth. We need a government of Canada that turns the lights back on. It's people first, not the wealthy first."
Topp was criticized Thursday by B.C. Liberal MP John Les for favouring parliamentary seat increases in Quebec, where population growth does not justify an increase, at the expense of B.C., which is slated for six more seats. However, he said his message has been consistent.
"I'm saying exactly what I was saying yesterday and that is I'm very happy to see progress on this file. Adrian Dix spoke up right away for B.C. People in government need to listen to all the voices."
Peggy Nash, Toronto MP and NDP finance critic, declared her candidacy for the top party post Friday, making it's a seven-way race that also includes deputly leader Thomas Mulcair, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.
"This is not about the candidates competing against each other or working against each other. This is about defeating Stephen Harper. One of the great things about this race is it's a chance to highlight our team. There's a cabinet in that caucus."