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NDP leadership debate in Vancouver: live blog

NDP hopefuls squared off in their final debate - in Vancouver. Photos by David P. Ball

Seven hopefuls to replace late NDP leader Jack Layton square off in Vancouver today. The Vancouver Observer reports live from the final debate before the March 24 party vote.

Follow our live blog as we update as the debate unfolds today.


2:45 p.m. - I've been scouting out the Robo-calls rally across the street. Interestingly, among the several dozen I asked, there were few New Democrat members to be found in my quest for comment on the debate. Considering the NDP has led the charge against electoral suppression, it was interesting that there were not more members at the rally. One possibility is they've gone for beers with the various candidates, who are holding pub meet-and-greets post-debate.

One prominent Peggy Nash supporter, Duncan Cameron (president of was at the Robo-calls rally. Former Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) city councillor Ellen Woodsworth was around as the audience filtered out of the CBC building.

I just ran into candidate Brian Topp on his way to his own pub event - in his entourage was Alvin Singh, executive director of COPE. 

Following the previous NDP leaders' town hall during the BC NDP convention, the Vancouver Observer was the only media to report that Topp was booed off the stage after he thrice ignored the moderator's request he respect his time limit. I mentioned that he seemed to have improved since his last performance here.

"I've learned a lot," he admitted to me.

One person attending the robocall rally told me he watched the debate as a "neutral person," and had not made his mind up in the leadership race.

"I think it was a very good debate," Jurgen Claud-Pierre said. "They are all bright people, with lots of good ideas.

"By the end, it was clear they all want to work together. But I always liked Mulcair - his personality, and he's completely bilingual. Also, Cullen impressed me."

Ballots have been mailed to NDP members last week, who will vote either in advance or during the party's March 24 convention.


2 p.m. - The audience has filed out now, I've been milling about outside asking their views on the debate. With a preferential ballot having party members choosing first choice candidates, then others by order of preference, in the end it may be the second choicers who most influence the vote.

Here's from one audience member (who disclosed that he was already a Niki Ashton supporter):

"I'm still processing, trying to take it all in," said Jordan Dysart. "Normally, I'm scared of Nathan Cullen calling people out - he normally does.

"But him calling out Singh (for calling Brian Topp a liar), I thought a lot more of him. I already made my choice for Niki (Ashton), but for second-choice I'm now torn between Cullen or Topp. I'd have to go with Cullen."

We just had all the candidates in the media room for scrums. Nash predicted she would be on the final, deciding ballot with Thomas Mulcair, implying that she has knocked Topp and Dewar off the list of presumed front-runners.

Mulcair defended his desire to adapt the party's message, denying that he is moving the party away from its roots. When the Vancouver Observer asked why he thought he had recieved the most donations from Bay Street and corporate interests, he evaded somewhat and said he has the most donations from the broadest group of Canadians.

Topp clenched his fist nervously, it seemed, on the podium, but joked comfortably that he wished the debate were longer: "I was just warming up," he chuckled before stepping off the stage and chatting with a journalist one-on-one.

Cullen told media he was surprised Martin Singh didn't apologize when he confronted Singh on calling Topp a liar. In fact, he told media, he even had a rebuttal ready for Singh's apology.

It was entertaining viewing (something the CBC has really been pushing this debate) - with some commentators noting that the coverage has often been more about style than substance, viewership than views.

But today's moderator really pushed - to the point of repeatedly interrupting candidates - for the hopefuls to differentiate themselves. Did they? Add your comments below. 

1:30 p.m. - 1,000 people packed into the CBC theatre today, the NDP's media spokesperson just told me. 

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