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NDP gathers in Ottawa to set ground rules for leadership race

OTTAWA - The interim head of the NDP is urging her party to sticktogether ahead of a looming leadership race that threatens to ungluethe disparate elements of the largely rookie caucus.

OTTAWA - The interim head of the NDP is urging her party to stick together ahead of a looming leadership race that threatens to unglue the disparate elements of the largely rookie caucus.

Nycole Turmel made the plea Friday as the party's federal council gathered in an Ottawa hotel to set the ground rules for the race to replace the late Jack Layton.

“Every step we take will be watched closely,” Turmel said. “We must remain focused on the job of building our party.

“Jack showed us how we can do politics differently, how we can listen and respect other opinions and at the end of the day remain united. And that's what we need to do today. We'll take difficult decisions, but at the end of the day, we need to walk out of here and be united.”

The jockeying began shortly after Layton died of cancer last month. Party president Brian Topp's name surfaced early as a possible leadership contender, rankling some New Democrats who felt it was too soon to be testing the waters for a run.

Deputy leader Thomas Mulcair, the party's Quebec lieutenant, kept quiet in the days following Layton's death, but recently he has been talking up his credentials in interviews.

Other names being floated for leader include MPs Charlie Angus, Paul Dewar, Robert Chisholm, Nathan Cullen, Romeo Saganash, Megan Leslie and Peggy Nash.

It appears most would-be candidates are waiting to see what rules the party brass set before they decide on a leadership bid.

The 67 federal council members will determine when and where the leadership convention will be held and set an entry fee and spending limits.

Unlike the last leadership contest in 2003, the party will not set aside a certain portion of the vote for labour unions.

The Canadian Labour Congress released a statement today saying it supports the NDP's one-member, one-vote policy. President Ken Georgetti says the union supported a 2004 law that eliminated financial contributions to political parties from unions and corporations.

“We then co-chaired an NDP committee to ensure that we were in compliance with the new legislation,” he said. “It became clear to us in this process that a weighted vote in a leadership contest would contravene Bill C-24.

“The committee recommended that the party amend its constitution to that effect and that was done.”

Hassan Yussuff, an associate president of the NDP, said the trick facing the federal council is striking the right balance so no possible contenders are at a disadvantage.

“Our job is to figure what's a balance between one position and the middle ground,” he said.

“There's a fine art in that to make sure that you don't offend anybody but at the same time, you're not favouring somebody.”

The leadership convention is expected to be held in either Ottawa or Toronto, although Quebec remains a possibility given the party's breakthrough in the province in the last election.

The prevailing sense is that it will be a seven-month contest to replace Layton.