While Jagmeet Singh’s opponents portray him as a flash in the pan and commentators are pointing to his potential weakness in Quebec, the NDP leadership candidate is picking up endorsements in vote-rich British Columbia and his team is positioning him as a strong fundraiser and the party’s “growth candidate”âsomeone who brings new socially progressive Canadians into the fold and re-energizes the party after a disastrous election.
While much has been written about the former Ontario deputy NDP leader’s snazzy custom-designed suits, GQ magazine feature, and mixed martial arts mastery, federal politicos may still be getting to know the provincial politician and why some are considering him a frontrunner in the four-person race.
Mr. Singh has attracted a campaign team led by an adviser to the son of the revered late party leader Jack Layton. His fundraising âfar exceededâ the combined total of the other NDP leadership candidates in their respective early days, his campaign says. AndÂ Mr. Singh now has the most federal caucus endorsements.
While a poll earlier this month had him tied for third place, bested by federal MPs Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) and Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.), Mr. Singh has been targeted in debates by his opponents, in what The Canadian Press reported last month could be a sign they see him as the candidate to beat.
âWe need to shake things up in Ottawa and I do think the time is right to put a different face on our party,â said NDP MP Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby South, B.C.), who has endorsed Mr. Singh and said the Ontario MPP has âa lot of the same vibesâ as the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton.
Mr. Stewart sees an advantage in a leader who isn’t tied to the House and can be on the campaign trail building support ahead of the expected 2019 federal election to make up for some of the 59 seats the NDP lost in the 2015 election andÂ 2016âs low fundraising numbers.
âWe have to recognize that we werenât doing something right and we need a big change in approach to our campaigning and our approach to connecting with Canadians,” said Mr. Stewart.
The Singh campaign has said it has âfar exceededâ the $252,664 in combined donations collected in the first quarter of 2017 by the four candidates then in the race. Mr. Singh didn’t join the race until May 15, well into the second quarter. Elections Canada won’t release second-quarter fundraising results until the end of this month.
Mr. Angus, another perceived frontrunner, has attacked Mr. Singh forÂ acting like a Liberal.
In response to Mr. Singh’s portrayal of himself as the “growth candidate” in the race at a Saskatoon debate July 11, Mr. Angus pushed back.
“We’ve won by putting the organizers on the ground, not by having someone come in and say I can do this all by myself,” Angus said. “That’s been the problem with that central theme, that little group in Ottawa that says, ‘You know what, we are going to get a big image, we are going to get a big spin and we are all going to win.’ That’s what Liberals do; that’s not what New Democrats do.”
Mr. Singh now has the most federal caucus endorsements, with three. It jumps to 19 when provincial and former politicians are included, compared to 11 for Mr. Angus, five for Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette-TĂ©miscouata-Les Basques, Que.), and four for Ms. Ashton. Less than a week after Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) left the raceÂ earlier this month, nine B.C. MLAs confirmed they sided with Mr. Singh, including several now in cabinet, including Education Minister Rob Fleming, Health Minister Judy Darcy, and Labour Minister Harry Bains.
Last week, the team opened an office in Surrey, B.C., as an organizing base in a province where campaign director Michal Hay said the Singh team is seeing an âoverwhelming amount of support.â
Analysts point to fundraising capacity as a key marker for a frontrunner and point to a savvy team led by Ms. Hay, who is on a leave of absence as executive assistant to Toronto councillor Michael Layton and also ran Olivia Chowâs 2014 mayoral bid. Mr. Layton, son of Jack Layton, did not respond when asked by email last week if he was supporting Mr. Singh. Ms. Chow is Jack Layton’s widow.
Earnscliffe principal Kathleen Monk, a former communications director to Jack Layton who has not endorsed anyone in the campaign, said the MPP has a strong team, among them an âincredibly organizedâ Ms. Hay who plays the long game. Mr. Stewart said he’s confident in the team and “it starts with the campaign director.”
âI canât think of a stronger choice,â said Ms. Monk, who like other analysts said she was impressed by the Singh campaign’s national âground gameâ that underpins everything.
Ms. Hay said that includes door-knocking and using a texting app to fundraise called Hustle, which allows for mass group messages and can also send individualized messages.
âThatâs been effective,â said Ms. Hay, adding they also use Slack so that volunteers can organize themselves and build their own channels.
While some of Mr. Singhâs field directors may not be big names on the national scene, they have been involved at the local riding levels for years, she said. The team also includes former speechwriter to Jack Layton Willy Blomme and the Broadbent Instituteâs policy director Jonathan Sas.
While Mr. Angus, who fundraised the most in the first quarter, and Mr. Singh have emerged as frontrunners, Ms. Monk said the other two canât be discounted. Mr. Caron is a âdark horseâ and she said Ms. Ashton hasnât been given enough credit for her campaign, with a strong digital approach and support from grassroots members.
As she sees it, there are still three key turning points: the upcoming fundraising numbers, the Aug. 17 cut-off for campaigns to sign up new members to vote in the election, and the debates that close the raceâparticularly the last French debate in Montreal on Aug. 27.
Mr. Singhâs vulnerabilities are in rural Canada, Ms. Monk said, noting he stumbled on Old Age Security means-testing in the Saskatoon debate.
âYou can win it on the mechanics of money and organization. He has to still prove he has the policy chops and can deliver at these debates,â said Ms. Monk.
But if all four perform well on that front, it’ll be his perceived potential to bring in the new members needed to win an election that will push the party pendulum his way.
Added former NDP staffer Robin MacLachlan,âIâm not sure thereâs any other candidate that can demonstrate new and innovative organizing tactics and commitment and devotion to restructuring the party machinery that prepares us to go toe to toe with Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and Liberals in 2019.â
The Singh campaign says it has been signing up “thousands upon thousands” of members and that the first push to raise money was with the former Ontario NDP deputy leader’s base in the Greater Toronto Area, including Brampton and Hamilton. He has represented Bramalea-Gore-Malton, a riding in Brampton, in the Ontario legislature since 2011.
But it’s B.C. that can make the difference, said Mr. Stewart who is joined by provincial colleague Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, B.C.) in supporting Mr. Singh, as well as Quebec MP HĂ©lĂšne LaverdiĂšre (Laurier-Sainte Marie, Que.).Â
âWe have the capacity to ramp up membership quite substantially, which would be tougher in Quebec which hasn’t had a longer history of people being members of the party,â said Mr. Stewart, who waited for Mr. Singhâs public opposition to the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline running from Alberta through to coastal B.C. before he got on board. âB.C. is actually the key, I think, to this.â
Now heâs an active campaigner, working âevery day,â making calls to shore up support and explains concerns from some about core issue for his constituents, like why it took Mr. Singh longer than others to come out against pipelines.
But B.C. historically has made up about a third of NDP membership, Mr. Stewart said, and with a one-member one-vote design it doesn’t matter where candidates concentrate their organization in the country so long as they sign up dedicated supporters who will vote.
With excitement surrounding an NDP-led provincial government and a membership that once boasted 100,000 provincially by Mr. Stewartâs estimation, B.C. has the opportunity to be a kingmaker.
Western Canada is a strength for Mr. Singh, said Mr. MacLachlan, including urban and suburban Alberta.
B.C. will figure strongly, he agreed, estimating the number of members in Quebec is less than Saskatchewan and roughly equivalent to the Maritimes.
The Summa Strategies vice president who has yet to endorse a candidate said too much has been made of potential problems in Quebec, which represents almost half of current NDP MPs.
âI really just donât accept the notion that this candidate or another can’t succeed in the region,â said Mr. MacLachlan to the suggestion that as a Sikh who wears a turban, Mr. Singh will face resistance in the province.
Earlier this monthÂ former NDP MP Pierre Dionne Labelle told Le Devoir Quebecers âare not readyâ for a candidate who wears âostentatious signsâ connected to their religion. After Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s rejecting the Catholic Church’s influence in the province, it has held strong to secular values.
But Ms. Hay said thatâs not what organizers are hearing, describing Quebecers as âopen.â
âTheir questions do revolve around what values motivate him in governing and whether or not it would be a separation of what people phrase as church and stateâwhich is a very easy answer for him.”
She said the team isnât shying away from the province, which is getting a âtargeted campaignâ and repeat visits from the leadership hopeful.
âWe’re offering something special to Quebec because thereâs a different conversation that needs to happen there with our candidate but we are going all in there.”
The Hill Times
Michal Hay, campaign director
Nuvi Sidhu, field director
James Wardlaw, field director
Nader Mohamed, digital director
Lavleen Kaur, fundraising
Aaron Webber, fundraising
Brian Chang, operations director
Ătienne Graton, Quebec organizer
Hannah Iland, tour director
Harman Sehmbi, creative director
Jared Walker, communications
Willy Blomme, communications
Jonathan Sas, policy director
Melissa Bruno, advisor
Navpreet Dhillon, national volunteer engagement coordinator
âSource: Jagmeet Singh’s campaign