It’s just over a week since NDP leader Jack Layton died, and the party is starting to look to a future without him and the job of picking a new leader.
One MP who won’t be in the running is St. John’s South-Mount Pearl Ryan Cleary, but only because he doesn’t speak French.
“If I was bilingual, I would have my name in the hat,” Cleary said. “Because I’d have every opportunity to put all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s issues front and centre on the national agenda.”
With more than half of the NDP caucus hailing from Quebec, fluent French is seen as an absolute necessity for any aspiring candidate.
Out of the gate, the immediate frontrunners seem to be party president Brian Topp and deputy leader and Quebec lieutenant Thomas Mulcair, both of whom have said they’re thinking about it.
Neither Cleary nor St. John’s East MP Jack Harris wanted to speak about specific candidates, but both said Layton will be a tough act to follow.
“It’s a tricky time, right, because obviously anybody who puts their name out there as a leadership contender is going to be compared to Jack Layton, and there will be no living up to that legacy,” Cleary said.
Harris said aside from French, the major qualification for the new leader will be to simultaneously mentor the many junior members of the NDP caucus and still command the respect of long-serving members.
Beyond that, he said, the leader will have to “at the same time present ourselves, in our four-year window that we have, as a true alternative government to Mr. Harper.”
In his final letter to party members and Canadians just before he died, Layton encouraged the party to hold a leadership convention and pick his successor “as early as possible in the new year.”
But before that can happen, the party will have to make it through the fall session of the House of Commons, led by interim leader Nycole Turmel. Both Cleary and Harris expressed confidence about that.
“We have to appear and be working as a serious team, and challenge the agenda of the government,” Harris said.
“It going to be tough. I don’t discount that at all, but I think we do have the people to do the job.”
Cleary said the caucus is “solid” and he’s confident about the political talent within the ranks of NDP MPs.
“Jack Layton’s legacy is a solid New Democratic Party, and we have a great base. We have a great foundation,” he said. “People ask me, ‘How do you see the fall sitting? You know, how’s that going to go without Jack?’ It’s going to go fine. People will pull together.
“The attitude will be, more or less, let’s do it for Jack.”