Meet Brian Topp
When he's not running his union (ACTRA Toronto), chairing the board of his credit union (Creative Arts Savings and Credit Union), attending board meetings of Film Ontario (the industry association he co-chairs) of ROI Fund (a $1.4 billion venture capital fund) or of Pinewood Toronto Studios (Toronto's biggest film studio), or doing his work as a long-time volunteer and activist in the NDP (most recently as president of the party), you'll likely find Brian Topp in the woods or at an ice rink.
He and his partner, Rebecca Elbourne, are photographers and ramblers -- she is a biologist and keen bird lover.
Their sons, Simon (16) and Alex (14) are both amateur hockey players when they're not at school pursuing their muses (both attend the Etobicoke School of the Arts -- Simon in the acting program and Alex in film-making).
Topp's family is his base, his battery-charger, and his priority. "There will be a way to do political work that works for families like ours," he says, with determination.
Brian Topp, 51, was born in Longueuil, Quebec and grew up in St-Lambert, on the south shore of Montreal. His mother was a francophone Quebecoise from Sillery, a suburb of Quebec City. His father is an impecably bilingual anglophone raised in Ste-Jerome, Quebec -- previous generations of Topps were from Granby. His mother's family has deep roots in Trois-Rivieres. "Sillery, Quebec City, Longueuil, Trois-Rivieres, Ste-Lambert, Ste-Jerome... all communities now represented in Parliament by New Democrats," Topp said. "A benefit we owe all Canadians!"
Topp graduated from McGill University in 1983 and went into business -- publishing a small magazine funded by a typesetting company. Which soon acquired a political client -- the NDP, ramping up its campaigning in Quebec under the leadership of Ed Broadbent. Broadbent was determined to break through in Quebec, in order to position the NDP as a credible national candidate for government.
"That made good strategic sense to me then and still does today," Topp said. So he joined the party, along with some 15,000 other Quebecers between 1984 and 1988.
Topp chaired the party's election planning committee in the riding of Chambly in 1988. The party didn't win that seat in that election -- but took it with over 60% of the vote with the same team and candidate in a byelection in 1989 -- the NDP's first election victory in Quebec.
Topp then went to Parliament as a legislative assistant and then a writer and researcher in the Leader's Office -- a graduate course in the work of federal MPs and of the leader.
And then, in 1993, he got an offer he could not refuse -- an offer to work as director of research in the Premier's office in the NDP government in Saskatchewan. In that job and then as deputy chief of staff to Premier Roy Romanow, Topp worked at the heart of an NDP government that turned around a brutal fiscal crisis; returned to balanced budgets; and pursued a fiscally responsible, economically literate, and socially progressive agenda -- regularly re-elected (Premiers Romanow and Calvert kept the NDP in office for four terms).
In 1999, Topp went to work for Credit Union Central of Canada, as Vice-president and then Senior Vice-president in its national office.
In 2001, he joined the labour movement, stepping up as Executive Director and CEO of ACTRA Toronto, the 13,000-member union representing film and television artists in Ontario. ACTRA member Shirley Douglas, daughter of Tommy Douglas, underlined Topp's achievement as a leader in that union: “From the first day you have been fantastic. We fell in love with you because you understood the mess we were in and you showed us how to fix it."
In 2002 Topp helped found Film Ontario -- a trade association uniting unions, producers, studios, banks, post-production houses, and many other stakeholders involved in Ontario's film industry -- which, along with much of Ontario's industrial economy, was about to suffer a 40% decline in production and employment -- and then turn it around.
"Film Ontario is one of the most effective industry advocates in the province," says Dan Mclellan, a senior executive at Deluxe Post-production and Topp's colleague as co-chair of the Film Ontario board. "Our advocacy absolutely saved the industry -- we secured changes to how film and television is supported and marketed in Ontario that have completely turned things around." Ontario's film industry will have the best year in its history in 2011.
ACTRA Toronto sponsored the launch of ROI Fund in 2003 -- now a $1.4 billion family of funds, ROI has created or saved hundreds of jobs in Ontario the old-fashioned way -- through patient investing in good small and medium-sized companies.
"Working families and middle class families own most of the capital in the economy," Topp said. "More of it -- a lot more of it -- should be put to work in the real economy, creating real jobs and real growth. That's what we've been doing at ROI Fund, one investment at a time, one company at a time -- our contribution to the heavy lifting of turning around an increasingly hollowed-out economy."
And then there's his federal party work.
Topp took a leave from his job in the Saskatchewan Premier's office to run the federal NDP warroom during the 1997 federal election. He returned to do the same job for Jack Layton in 2004.
"I had been thinking I was done with politics, but Jack was a very persuasive recruiter," Topp said. "And I very much liked his strategy -- he was returning to Ed Broadbent's playbook, aiming to breakthrough in Quebec in order to position our party as a credible candidate for government. Running seriously for government is exactly what we should be doing."
Topp served as Layton's national campaign director during the 2006 and 2008 elections, was Layton's lead negotiator during the 2008 coalition discussions with the Liberals and Bloc, was his platform committee co-chair, debate coordinator, and post-election planning committee chair during the 2011 election, and in May 2011 was elected President of the party.
He also served in 2011 as a caucus advisor and then as campaign director for the B.C. Provincial NDP. "Some of the best fun I've had in politics," Topp said. In the fall of 2011, under leader Adrian Dix, the BC NDP was comfortably leading the governing Liberals.
"My plan as federal president for the next four years was to lead a 308-seat field organizing effort, and a detailed national policy review," Topp said. "To help Jack Layton be elected as Prime Minister, and perhaps to run for Parliament at an exciting historical moment, with our children safely grown up."
Jack's tragic death has instead brought us to what Topp calls "the leadership race none of us wanted". The challenge all of our leadership candidates are offering to step up to is to carry on Jack's work.
"We can defeat and replace Stephen Harper, by running a positive, hopeful, propositional campaign that starts now and continues for the next four years," Topp says. "And we can win a government mandate as New Democrats, as social democrats, without adopting the agendas and priorities of our Liberal and Conservative opponents. We can set a new course for Canada -- a course towards economic and social equality. We can act to protect the environment. We can restore Canada's good name in the world."
Let's get the job done.