OTTAWA — The number of card-carrying New Democrats has swelled to almost 100,000 in the first three months of the federal NDP leadership contest.
Memberships have more than tripled in Quebec, the province that delivered over half the NDP’s seats in last May’s election and vaulted the party into official Opposition status for the first time in its history.
Still, Quebec remains — at least for now — a bit player in determining who will succeed the late Jack Layton.
According to membership numbers released by the party, there are now 5,558 NDP members in Quebec, just under six per cent of the national total. By contrast, British Columbia boasts 31,456 members or 33 per cent, Ontario has 25,722 (27 per cent), Manitoba has 10,514 (11), Saskatchewan has 9,442 (10) and Alberta has 8,361 (nine).
Everyone who signs up by Feb. 18 will be eligible to vote for the new leader on March 24. There will be no weighting of votes to equalize the influence of regions or provinces.
Overall, the party says it now has 95,006 members, up from just under 84,000 before the campaign began, representing a 13 per cent boost in membership.
That does not include members in the North, where numbers are still being compiled, or New Brunswick, where the provincial party has decided not to publicize its latest numbers (there were almost 300 in the province at last count in September).
B.C.’s continuing dominance could bode well for former party president Brian Topp, the perceived frontrunner who has racked up impressive endorsements from the province’s MPs, MLAs and organizers, as well as from party icons such as former leader Ed Broadbent and former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.
Only the Atlantic provinces —with 169 members in Prince Edward Island, 1,184 in Newfoundland and Labrador and 2,600 in Nova Scotia — have fewer members than Quebec. And that could be bad news for Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, the perceived favourite on his home turf.
Still, party officials are pleased that Quebec’s memberships have grown by almost 4,000 since September — a growth spurt unmatched by any other province.
“Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go there but it’s still very encouraging and we’re all very excited about it,” said party spokeswoman Sally Houser.
In Montreal, Mulcair said there remain “some structural difficulties” in processing membership applications in Quebec, although it has gotten better.
In an apparent bid to help boost interest in Quebec, the party has decided to hold two of six all-candidates debates in the province.
The first debate will be held in Ottawa on Dec. 4, with another in Halifax in January, Quebec City and Winnipeg in February and Montreal and Vancouver in March.
There will be no debates in Toronto, the country’s largest city, or Saskatchewan, the party’s birthplace — choices that sparked some immediate criticism. One leadership contender, Toronto MP Peggy Nash, called the omission of her hometown “surprising” while another candidate, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, called it “glaring.”