Jag­meet Singh get­ting at­ten­tion

Favours elected Se­nate, restrict­ing old age pen­sion to the needy, rais­ing taxes on the rich

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - THOMAS WALKOM Thomas Walkom’s com­men­tary ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

With his well-tai­lored suits and colour-co­or­di­nated tur­bans, he typ­i­fies mil­len­nial hip

New Demo­cratic Party fed­eral lead­er­ship as­pi­rant Jag­meet Singh is on a roll. He’s rais­ing more money than his three ri­vals. He’s get­ting more at­ten­tion.

The 38-year-old Bramp­ton politi­cian, cur­rently an On­tario MPP, is try­ing to present him­self as a fresh new face. So far, his ef­forts ap­pear to be work­ing.

This week’s fi­nan­cial re­lease from Elec­tions Canada is par­tic­u­larly good news for Singh. Dur­ing the April-June pe­riod, his cam­paign raised a stun­ning $353,944.

That’s more than the com­bined to­tal of fel­low con­tenders Char­lie An­gus ($123,574), Niki Ash­ton ($70,124) and Guy Caron ($46,970).

While fundrais­ing prow­ess doesn’t guar­an­tee suc­cess within the NDP, it can be telling.

In the party’s 2012 lead­er­ship race, the even­tual win­ner — Thomas Mul­cair — was also the top fundraiser.

Singh’s cam­paign says that roughly 75 per cent of his donors have never given be­fore to the NDP. While that claim can­not be con­firmed, it jibes with the lim­ited amount of polling done in this race.

A July sur­vey by Main­stream Re­search es­ti­mated that fed­eral MPs An­gus and Ash­ton were the top choices of long-time party mem­bers. Among this group, how­ever, Singh scored a dis­tant third.

But if Singh is able to at­tract enough new mem­bers into his camp be­fore the vote this fall, any mis­giv­ings held by the party’s old guard may not mat­ter.

Most of Singh’s pol­icy pre­scrip­tions fall within the bound­aries of the NDP’s cur­rent or­tho­doxy.

He would raise cor­po­rate taxes. Like Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als (but un­like the NDP un­der Mul­cair) he would raise in­come taxes on the rich. He would in­sti­tute pro-union and pro-worker labour re­forms in ar­eas un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion.

He is in favour of more in­fras­truc­ture but crit­i­cal of the Lib­er­als new in­fras­truc­ture bank.

Like many fed­eral New Democrats, he walks a del­i­cate line on pipe­lines, prais­ing both Al­berta NDP Pre­mier Rachel Not­ley (who wants a heavy-oil pipe­line from the tarsands to the Pa­cific) and Bri­tish Columbia Pre­mier John Hor­gan (who does not).

In the end, how­ever, Singh comes out against both the pro­posed Kinder Mor­gan and En­ergy East pipe­line ex­pan­sions. Given their un­pop­u­lar­ity among New Democrats in B.C. and Que­bec, this is not a po­lit­i­cally fool­ish po­si­tion to take.

In­deed, Singh al­ready ap­pears to have sig­nif­i­cant sup­port in B.C., where he is backed by three New Demo­crat MPs and eight sit­ting MLAs.

In at least two re­spects, how­ever, he has bro­ken with cur­rent party pol­icy. First, as he said last month, he is amenable to the idea of an elected Se­nate.

I doubt that most Cana­di­ans care about this one way or the other. But many New Democrats do. The party has long held that the Se­nate should be abol­ished, not re­formed.

Sec­ond, he favours elim­i­nat­ing Old Age Se­cu­rity for se­niors and re­plac­ing it with a new means-tested pro­gram aimed only at the el­derly poor. Given the pop­u­lar­ity of OAS and the propen­sity of older peo­ple to vote, the NDP might find this a trou­ble­some prom­ise to take into the next elec­tion.

Some, in­clud­ing fel­low NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, ac­cuse Singh of pan­der­ing to the re­li­gious right dur­ing On­tario’s bit­ter de­bate over sex ed­u­ca­tion. “Jag­meet lost me long ago,” she said in an email, re­fer­ring to Singh’s sup­port of those crit­i­cal of teach­ing sex ed in schools.

Right now, the main con­tenders in this con­test ap­pear to be Singh and An­gus.

An­gus, the MP for Tim­mins-James Bay and a for­mer rocker with the alt band Griev­ous An­gels, has his roots in the Catholic left.

For a while, all of that — as well as his re­lent­less ad­vo­cacy for In­dige­nous peo­ples — gave An­gus some ca­chet in the party.

Now, the main rap against him is that he is too main­stream, too old-fash­ioned, too much like Mul­cair.

In fact, it is Singh who has much of the party es­tab­lish­ment on his side.

But like Trudeau, the for­mer crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer has none­the­less man­aged to present him­self as some­one new.

With his well-tai­lored suits and colour-co­or­di­nated tur­bans, he typ­i­fies mil­len­nial hip in the way that for­mer NDP leader Jack Lay­ton, in his bi­cy­cle hel­met, typ­i­fied an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion.

Those who have seen Singh in action say that, like Lay­ton, he is a for­mi­da­ble re­tail politi­cian.

And he can raise money. In pol­i­tics, that helps, too.

NATHAN DENETTE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

NDP lead­er­ship can­di­date Jag­meet Singh is young and of­fers a new era, writes Thomas Walkom. He is suc­cess­fully rais­ing funds, and that is a good omen.

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