NDP strategist aims for top spot

[attach]5545[/attach]Many Bloor West residents are likely already aware their local MP is running in the federal NDP’s leadership race. But they may not realize one of her rivals, Brian Topp, is also a local resident.

Topp has lived in the Warren Park area of Toronto for 11 years. On leave from his position as president of the federal NDP, he is also executive director and CEO of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists Toronto.

Born in Longueuil, Quebec, Topp has been a longtime NDP strategist and staffer.

In what would be his first role as an elected representative, Topp said he is running to carry on the legacy of the NDP’s late leader.

“Nobody can replace Jack Layton,” he said. “What we can do is try and continue his work.”

He said he has an edge in the race because of his connection to both Quebec and Toronto.

“The GTA is where we must break through next to win,” he said. “The challenge facing us is a fascinating one, we need to hold what we won and we need to keep growing.”

Topp lived in Regina, Saskatchewan before moving to Toronto. He said the switch has not been as different as one may expect, as the neighbourhood he lives in is quiet and detached from the core.

He lives there with his wife and two sons. He said over time the neighbourhood has changed from one heavily populated by Ukrainian and Polish seniors.

“While we’ve been there, it’s transitioned into a neighbourhood that is much more about young families,” he said. “I guess we were part of it.”

Topp has been attending meet and greets across the country to convince NDP members he’s the best pick for leader.

“It’s been very fascinating,” he said. “At one level it’s a remarkably diverse country, then on the other hand, it’s amazing how like-minded people are all over the country.”

Some expected him to throw his hat in the race for Toronto-Danforth’s March 19 byelection.

“I didn’t run in Toronto-Danforth because I was concerned that what might happen is actually what did happen, which is that Mr. Harper called the by-election during our leadership race,” he said. “You can’t run for a seat while you’re simultaneously running to be the leader of a party.”

Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash asked Topp how he would go toe-to-toe against the prime minister without a seat in the House of Commons at a Quebec City debate.

Topp says the lack of a seat didn’t stop the party from electing Jack Layton in 2003 over longtime Winnipeg MP and Dean of the House Bill Blaikie, which he believes was ultimately the right choice.

He says he plans to run in Quebec if elected leader.

“I’m not afraid of taking on Stephen Harper in the house and outside of it,” he said. “Peggy, who I have a great deal of admiration for, has only been in the House of Commons for a few years.”

Topp says there’s several reasons as to why he should be elected leader: he’s fluent in French and English, has an understanding of Quebecers, worked closely with Jack Layton on all his campaigns, and has worked in a sitting NDP government in Saskatchewan.

He doesn’t feel Torontonians will feel slighted by him living here and running in Quebec, considering he is running for national leader.

“If there’s one thing we can all agree on in Quebec and Toronto, it’s that we need to get rid of the Harper government,” he said. “I think Torontonians like the idea of doing that and want to see a winning strategy from us.”