National Column: Singh has the edge to get out the vote

by Chantal Hebert

Of the four candidates vying for the NDP leadership, the numbers suggest that only one can hope to win on the first ballot.

Jagmeet Singh’s campaign has claimed credit for enrolling 47,000 of the 124,000 members eligible to vote for the next leader.

If the bulk of them do vote over the next two weeks, all could be in place for a first ballot win Oct. 1.

While that amounts to an organizational challenge, the fact is that it should be logistically easier for Singh to get his vote out than for his rivals. That’s because his support is more heavily concentrated than that of Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Guy Caron.

Connecting with large pockets of members in the GTA and the larger Vancouver area is presumably more straightforward than reaching out to a lot of smaller ones spread out across the country.

It also helps that Singh’s political base – again in contrast with his three rivals – is located in Canada’s most-populated urban area.

Angus holds a northern Ontario riding. Ashton’s seat is in northern Manitoba and Caron hails from the Lower St. Lawrence region.

Under the NDP formula of one member, one vote, the edge that comes from being familiar to a large pool of potential support is particularly valuable.

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Some New Democrats – especially but not exclusively in Quebec – lament the fact that the leadership vote is not weighted to reflect the demographics of the country.

The NDP may not have a shot at winning government unless it can win seats in Quebec, but anyone can become its leader without showing well in a province whose party ranks are thin.

Among the three main parties, this is a feature unique to the NDP.

The party brass – under Tom Mulcair’s leadership – had four years to fix the leadership election formula in a way that better reflects the electoral reality of Canada and it did not.

The outgoing leader probably did not expect the issue of the leadership to resurface as soon as it did.

Be that as it may, the failure to give Quebec a voice on party affairs commensurate with its demographic and/or caucus weight could contribute to the notion the New Democrat presence in the province is a blip, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That being said, it is not just because Singh has finished ahead of the pack in the membership drive that he is going into the vote with an edge on the competition. If that were the case, the Ontario MPP would be little more than the New Democrat’s Kevin O’Leary – a bright shiny leadership object of dubious marketable value.

Singh’s stumble-free campaign has been all that O’Leary never was. As the NDP campaign reaches the final stage, some are pointing out that he lacks a seat in the House of Commons. That is a fair point to make, but no one is arguing that he is less ready for federal prime time than the three MPs he is running against.

If there is a path to victory for one of the other contenders, it runs through a second ballot. Did not Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently turn front-runner Maxime Bernier into an also-ran over the course of multiple ballots?

But the parallel between the Conservative Party of Canada and the NDP dynamics has clear limits.

Bernier won the air war but neglected his ground game, a mistake Singh cannot automatically be counted on to make.

Moreover, the Beauce MP campaigned on a set of policies that curtailed his capacity to grow from ballot to ballot (or to secure caucus support). No one would describe Singh’s platform as polarizing. It is the notion of campaigning under a turban-wearing Sikh leader, not his policies that is a concern in some NDP quarters.

There was a time when having a shot at power mattered less to the New Democrat base than to its Liberal and Conservative counterparts. But that was in the pre-Layton, pre-Mulcair era and before the party scored back-to-back NDP victories in Alberta and British Columbia.

At the final leadership showcase of the campaign on Sunday in Hamilton, all candidates featured strengths New Democrats have cause to like. But it was Singh who seemed to most succeed at making them dream of a brighter electoral future.

Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.
Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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