NDP Leader needs the west

NDP hopefuls must lay the foundation of a relationship with the West to win the leadership race.

The man at the front of the race to replace the late Jack Layton as leader of the Opposition New Democrats in Ottawa was in town Sunday.

Thomas Mulcair, the MP and NDP deputy leader from Outremont, Que., dropped by the University of Victoria for an informal gathering consisting mainly of party faithful from Vancouver Island.

Mulcair, anointed as Layton’s Quebec lieutenant several years back, is largely unknown to people in this area. But with two of the region’s three MPs flying the orange of the NDP – they represent two-thirds of the region’s residents – wooing party members in Greater Victoria becomes important for any NDP leadership hopeful, especially those based thousands of kilometres away.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley (B.C.) MP Nathan Cullen and Manitoba MP Niki Ashton are both considered longshots to win the leadership. The frontrunners in this race are all from Ontario or Quebec.

True, Layton was from Toronto. But he developed a special kinship with voters on this coast, having visited here often before and during the leadup to the 2011 federal election.

None of the current batch of hopefuls can claim such a relationship, but it’s incumbent upon them to at least lay the foundation for one.

The big question is after the NDP crowns a new leader March 24, will the West, and specifically the Capital Region, have any more of a voice than it had in the Jack Layton era?

If Mulcair were to win, would he focus on keeping the Quebecers happy who switched allegiance from the Bloc to the NDP?

Or would he, like Layton in the pre-Opposition years, try to appeal to a broader base of Canadians, with a federal election at least three years away and the Conservatives holding a firm majority?

With the majority of the party’s support still in Central Canada, we’re betting on the former rather than the latter.