The eight candidates vying to replace Jack Layton as the leader of the country’s New Democrats face off in a debate in Toronto Wednesday night.
It’s one of several debates in the run-up to the vote March 24 when party members choose their new leader.
A party spokesman says all eight hopefuls are expected to attend.
The candidates are Thomas Mulcair, Brian Topp, Niki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Peggy Nash, Martin Singh and Romeo Saganash.
Layton died in August, just months after leading his party to 103 seats in the federal election, making it the Official Opposition for the first time.
Wednesday’s event is not one of six “official” debates organized by the party, but is one of several such events organized locally.
“They are going to have three different sections to deal with,” said Matias de Dovitiis, co-chair of the Toronto Area Council that organized the debate.
The topics will be infrastructure and renewal, equality and social issues, and sustainable economy.
Each candidate will have 60 seconds to respond to questions devised by the council, followed by a four-way debate.
The only official debate to date — last month in Ottawa — was collegial, with candidates sticking closely to tried-and-true social democratic bromides.
Gauging the most likely winners of the March vote has proven difficult.
Topp, the former party president, was the presumed front-runner when the seven-month race started last fall, and has won the backing of former Saskatchewan premiers Lorne Calvert and Roy Romanow, along with former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
Topp, a fluently bilingual, longtime senior backroom strategist, has tried to present himself as someone who can win in both Quebec and the rest of the country.
However, some said Topp turned in a mediocre performance at a roundtable in Vancouver, while one of his main rivals, Mulcair, has picked up steam.
Mulcair, a Montreal MP, has positioned himself as the contender best able to hold the party’s newfound Quebec base.
But he is facing questions over his dual French-Canadian citizenship. Although born in Canada, he became a French citizen because his wife is from France.
The next official debate is in Halifax Jan. 29, with others followed every two weeks in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver and at the March convention.
Earlier this week, the federal Liberals approved a resolution calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana, but it remains to be seen whether the NDP will tackle the issue at its debates.