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NDP leadership candidates put French to the test

Kristy Kirkup, Parliamentary Bureau

OTTAWA - The federal NDP's French-language debate in Quebec City was an uphill battle for some candidates - including Ottawa's Paul Dewar - who hoped to seduce Quebec supporters Sunday.

The party's third debate focused on Canada's role on the world stage but the 90-minute discussion provided a window into the French-speaking abilities of all candidates.

Quebec is a battleground for the party, which claimed 59 of 75 available seats in the province during the 2011 election.

Dewar, the party's former foreign affairs critic, is clearly the weakest in French but maintains his language skills are improving.

Other leadership contenders include former party president Brian Topp, MPs Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash, Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton, and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.

Cullen, a B.C. MP, started off the debate by indicating his French is "not perfect," but he wants to "understand people's dreams."

Mulcair and Topp, meanwhile, articulated all of their points in French with ease.

The new leader of the NDP will be named on March 24 in a one-member, one-vote system.

On Twitter: @kkirkup