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NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp stops in Nelson to drum up support for March convention

NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp answers questions from local media during a stop Sunday in Nelson. — Bruce Fuhr photo

There’s not much Brian Topp can’t handle — not even emergency dental surgery at 3 a.m.

Which is why the president of the New Democrat Party of Canada wants to switch chairs around the party table to become the new leader.

Topp, a few days after successful stint in the dental chair, stopped in Nelson Sunday as part of a cross country tour to drum up support for his NDP leadership bid.

“I’m going all across the country to urban and rural communities to introduce myself, talk about the issues and ask for support,” Topp told a group of local media at the Baker Street Best Western Inn.

Local NDP MLA Michelle Mungall, a solid supporter the 2011 NDP federal election co-chair, invited Topp to Nelson.

“Michelle (Mungall) was an early supporter of mine and I was quite keen to come to visit her in her community, but I’m here as part of a tour,” Topp said.

Topp, married with two teenaged sons, attended a banquet in Castlegar Saturday.

He is considered to be one of the front-runners of the eight candidates vying for the leadership of Canada’s Official Opposition.

The others include British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, Nova Scotia activist Martin Singh, Toronto MP Peggy Nash, Outremont, Que. MP Thomas Mulcair and Dartmouth-Cole Harbour's Robert Chisholm — the latter joining the race during the weekend.

One of the first questions Topp faced was how does the party replace Jack Layton, who died suddenly during the summer from cancer.

“You can’t,” said Topp. “Nobody can replace (him). Jack Layton couldn’t replace Jack Layton. Jack Layton in the first year of his leadership wasn’t the Jack Layton in the ninth year of his leadership. All you can really do is continue his work.”

Topp, who does not hold a seat in the House of Commons but promises to earn a spot in the House if he wins the leadership crown, is one of the few federalists to grace the soils of the Heritage City.

During most election campaigns local voters only see party leaders on television or in a major center.

However, Topp realizes where the NDP holds most of its power — in rural Canada.

“If you look at where we win seats, we win a lot of them in rural communities,” said the native of Longueuil, Quebec. “So you want be leader of the party, you’d better know this side of the party . . . it’s part of our backbone.”

Some insiders have penciled Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair as the leader with the best chance to unseat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Mulcair’s “fighting attitude” is just what the NDP need to go toe-to-toe with the current prime minister.

However, Topp, a lifelong political organizer and a previous deputy chief of staff to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, sees another way to earn the respect of Canadians.

“That’s attempting to use the Conservative playbook and that will not work,” Topp explained. “Conservatives are about getting people angry, dividing people and persuading others not to vote. I think if we play that game all we do is reinforce the Conservatives and persuade our own voters not to vote.”

Topp said Jack Layton's "propositional" approach, which he promises continue as leader, is the best way to continue the surge by the NDP.

“What progressive voters, who tend to be women and tend to by younger, want to hear from us is what’s the criticism of the conservatives . . . a good analysis of why we’re on the wrong track,” he said.

“But in every issue we raise, (we must) make a good, positive proposal.”

The NDP Leadership Convention is set for March 23-24 at the Allstream Centre in Toronto.