In honour of the Champlain Saint-Lambert’s 50th anniversary, the college has followed up with 50 of its alumni to see where their paths have led after their time in Cegep. These 50 former students have gone on to accomplish amazing things and their paths show just how much is possible for a Champlain grad.
Brian Topp devoted 25 years to the New Democratic Party.
Brian Topp (Social Science, 1979) is perhaps best known for his work with the New Democratic Party, where he managed Jack Layton’s orange wave campaign, became the president of the party and even ran for the leadership in 2012.
But throughout his long career, Topp has accomplished far more.
He ran Rachel Notley’s campaign war-room in Alberta in 2015 when they were able to form the first NDP government in the province’s history. Following the election win, Topp became the chair of the transition team and served as Notley’s chief of staff.
Topp’s interest in politics began at an early age, when he worked on the student newspaper at Champlain Saint-Lambert, The Bugle.
As the editor of the paper, Topp spent long hours producing the weekly paper which covered stories ranging from current affairs to campus news and Quebec politics.
“I had a fantastic time at Champlain,” he said. “The college put up with me becoming a member of the board of governors as a student representative. I fear I was more a hindrance than a help to them,” he joked.
Topp continued to pursue his interest in journalism at McGill University where he worked at the student newspaper, The Daily, and completed his Bachelor’s in History and Political Science.
Like his fellow Bugle alum, Phil Authier, Topp wanted to become a reporter but found that jobs at the time in Montreal were scarce.
Undaunted, Topp got together with a few friends and founded a graphic design and typesetting company which produced Open City Magazine, of which he was the editor-in-chief.
It was at this time that Topp started producing pamphlets and posters for the NDP, which at the time had meagre support in Quebec.
He supported the party and ended up chairing the campaign for Phil Edmonston, the first NDP MP to be elected in Quebec.
Topp said he had no experience chairing a campaign, but when they were able to secure the seat, Edmonston asked him to come to parliament and run his office in Ottawa.
Topp worked on the hill for three years before taking a job working with the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party as deputy chief of staff to Premier Roy Romanow. He gained experience working in Romanow’s government for seven years, from 1993 to 2000, and gained a reputation within the party.
Out of the blue, Topp got a call from then-newly elected NDP leader Jack Layton, asking for help turning the tide of support in Quebec.
Topp worked on the 2004 federal election and served as the party’s national campaign director in 2006 and 2008.
In 2011, at the height of the orange wave, Topp served as a senior adviser Layton and became the president of the party.
Following a campaign that led to huge gains for the NDP federally, Layton died in August 2011. Topp called the tragedy “one of Canadian politics’ greatest might-have-beens.”
One month later, Topp announced his intention to run for the leadership. He ended up coming in second to Tom Mulcair with 42.8 per cent of the votes.
During this time, Topp served as the Executive Director & CEO of ACTRA Toronto, one of the country’s largest unions representing film, television, commercial and new media performers.
In recent years, Topp has worked with gt&co, a consulting firm he founded with Don Guy, and he is still involved in political campaigns: “It’s like the mafia. You can never leave,” Topp joked.
Topp is also a lecturer at McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, serves as Chair of the Board of the Broadbent Institute and was invited to be a Member of the NAFTA Advisory Council during the renegotiation.
Topp’s advice for current students and recent grads: “These days, great marks and excelling in your academics is what opens the doors to even better opportunities at the university level or at the work you’re going to do after you graduate. So savor the opportunities in a college environment. Dig deep in the wisdom of the teachers and throw yourself at it.”