A week before New Democrats start voting, candidate Peggy Nash remains confident she can beat six others to become the new leader of the official Opposition.
“There were two polls released last week that show me in No. 2 position, and that’s likely to grow with a little support,” Nash said on a visit to Kamloops on Tuesday.
Both of those polls were internal, produced by the camps of fellow candidates Thomas Mulcair and Paul Dewar.
Mulcair’s poll showed Nash trailing him in first place by 14 percentage points. Nash was the favoured second choice at 25 per cent. Dewar’s poll also suggested Mulcair is leading, but indicated Nash might give him a run for his money. Given a second choice, Nash is slightly behind Dewar in first place.
Naturally the poll results are widely disputed. Either way, pundits say Nash, a seasoned labour negotiator before she entered politics in 2006, is not to be underestimated.
That the MP hails from Ontario, not Quebec, may not work in her favour. There is a general sense that the party needs to solidify the electoral gains it made in Quebec in last year’s election. In that case, Mulcair, who has served as the party’s Quebec lieutenant, and Brian Topp would have an advantage as MPs from la belle province.
It’s not as simple as that, Nash said.
“We need to build in Quebec and we need to break through in the rest of Canada,” she said on the steps of City Hall. “I’ve been gaining tremendous support in the province of Quebec, but what we need to do is also work with Ontario and we need to build in the West. I don’t think only one group is important in selecting a leader.”
Since the outcome is unlikely to be decided on the first ballot, it’s conceivable Nash could come up the middle and win, gaining momentum from a ballot rivalry between Mulcair and Topp.
A longtime advocate of social justice for women, Nash met Tuesday morning with local women’s group representatives at Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre. She also had lunch with local party supporters on her third visit to B.C. during the campaign.
While Quebec is seen as fertile ground, B.C. remains of utmost strategic importance in terms of delegates.
The party’s national membership has reached an all-time high since the leadership contest began last fall, adding 45,000 new members. Most of those are from Quebec and Ontario, yet B.C. still constitutes the biggest bastion of support with closed to 39,000 members out of a national total of 128,000. Membership in this province has risen 29 per cent in recent months.
Candidate Romeo Saganash dropped out last week, leaving seven candidates in the running. Nash admitted it has been a long campaign but she believes the process has strengthened the party’s overall support.
“All I can tell you is that we’re signing up thousands of members. That, to me, indicates a lot of interest.
“No one can replace Jack Layton, but I believe we can take inspiration from Jack,” she added. “He certainly inspired me to run as a candidate.”
Although the convention vote is March 24, members can start voting March 1.