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Turmel to lay down rules for New Democrat MPs seeking leadership

Some of the NDP’s most effective critics on some of the hottest files could be sidelined during the fall and winter sittings of Parliament.

Interim Leader Nycole Turmel is expected today to order New Democrat MPs to give up their shadow cabinet posts if they decide to seek the party’s permanent leadership.

She’s also expected to lay down other rules for leadership contenders during a caucus retreat to plot strategy for Monday’s resumption of Parliament.

Among those considering a leadership bid are some of the most prominent members of the NDP’s front bench: deputy leader and House leader Thomas Mulcair, deputy leader and health critic Libby Davies, finance critic Peggy Nash, foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, industry critic and caucus chairman Peter Julian and environment critic Megan Leslie.

New Democrats insist they have plenty of bench strength to fill any gaps created by the leadership contest.

What’s more, they maintain the party’s new young bucks will get a chance to shine in the House of Commons while some of the more experienced MPs are off campaigning to succeed Jack Layton, who died last month from cancer.

“We have 102 very dynamic, very hard-working members of Parliament and I’ve no doubt that with the talent we have throughout our caucus that we’re going to be holding the Harper government to account throughout the period of the parliamentary session,” says Julian.

Most of the prospective leadership contenders say they’ll respect whatever decision Turmel makes about their shadow cabinet roles.

But potential candidate Nathan Cullen, the party’s associate natural resources critic, says contenders should simply volunteer to step aside, without being pushed.

“Nycole should make the suggestion but I think it should come from all the candidates too. We should just do this thing,” he says.

Allowing contenders to maintain high-profile, influential roles within the party, shadow cabinet or caucus would create potential conflicts of interest and an uneven playing field for other candidates, Cullen adds.

Leslie agrees the rules must ensure there’s no unfair advantage for anyone.

“For me, the big question is what’s fair and how do we make sure the playing field is as level as possible. Both within the group of people who are MPs who are running and people who aren’t MPs who are running … whatever we do has to be fair.”

Party president Brian Topp, the only formally declared candidate so far, has already recused himself from all decisions regarding the leadership contest. And he’s promised to step down altogether as soon as he officially files his leadership registration papers.

Julian, who sits on the party’s federal council, has also recused himself and says he’ll resign as interim caucus chairman should he decide to run. As for his industry critic’s post, he says that’s up to Turmel.