Leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair (L) gestures beside his wife Catherine Pinhas after winning the NDP Leadership Convention in Toronto March 24, 2012. The NDP are electing a new leader to replace Jack Layton who passed away this past summer.
Credits: REUTERS/Mike Cassese
TORONTO - New Democrats rejected the party's establishment candidate Saturday and elected a former Quebec Liberal with a fiery temper to lead them.
By choosing Thomas Mulcair, 57, over Brian Topp, 51, New Democrats are counting on the Montreal MP to show the gains made last year in Quebec, where the party won 59 of its 103 seats, were not a "Bon Jack" fluke.
Besides trying to heal the wounds opened at leadership conventions and unite the party, the Ottawa-born Mulcair will have to reach out to other Canadians distrustful of the NDP's tax-and-spend agenda if the party ever hopes to govern.
It took four ballots for Mulcair to knock off seven candidates vying for the role of leader of the official Opposition, each hoping to fill the void created after cancer took Jack Layton last August. He led on every ballot.
Mulcair said he would move the legacy of Layton forward.
"There is no time to lose. With the reckless Conservative budget cuts we know are coming next week, Canadian families expect the official Opposition to stand up to Stephen Harper and hold him to account," he said about the next week's federal budget.
It was a painful day as delegates both on the convention floor and at home were victimized by a hacker attack on the system used for voting.
The cyber assault delayed voting for several hours and left party officials red-faced and delegates fuming. Officials said the attack did not taint the outcome.
Topp was the favorite of Layton's inner circle. Unlike Mulcair, he wanted to keep the party glued to its social democratic roots.
His name was tossed into the ring days after Layton died in an orchestrated strike that angered New Democrats grieving Layton's death before his state funeral.
Liberals - led by a former provincial NDP leader - privately say Mulcair will steal the thunder they have enjoyed in the absence of a permanent NDP chief when he returns to Parliament to square off against Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Conservatives attacked Mulcair minutes after he was chosen.
"Thomas Mulcair is an opportunist whose tax agenda, blind ambition and divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk," said Fred Delorey, a party spokesman.