People keep asking: 'Will he or won't he?' But the real question about Jagmeet Singh's likely NDP leadership bid is: What does that mean for everyone else?

By Steve Paikin - Published on Apr 04, 2017
Potential federal NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh says he wears suits to avoid giving police a reason to stop him on the street. (Fred Lum/Globe and Mail)

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One of the longest-running parlour games at Queen’s Park has been guessing whether the charismatic MPP Jagmeet Singh, who represents Bramalea–Gore–Malton, will toss his hat in the ring for federal party leader.

No one but Singh knows his intentions for sure, but like many other journalists, I’m hearing that Singh has been quietly putting the finishing touches on a national campaign organization in order to make the move.

“We’ve got another leadership candidates’ debate in May,” a well-placed source told me this week, “and I expect Jagmeet to be in the race before that.” The source says some members of Singh’s provincial team have been moving away from Queen’s Park politics and creating the national team necessary for a federal run.

The ongoing drama has been a big distraction for the NDP. If Singh were to stay, it would signal he thinks the provincial party will be competitive in next year’s election. If he leaves, pundits will naturally infer the opposite: that it’s somehow a lack of faith in Horwath and the provincial party's prospects under her leadership.

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Leader Andrea Horwath, who would like to keep her party’s focus on holding the government to account and preparing for the 2018 election, yesterday urged Singh to you-know-what or get off the pot already (though of course she did so in far more polite, news-friendly language).

For her part, Horwath would like to see a rededicated Singh at her side. He is one of just two NDP MPPs in the 905 (Oshawa’s Jennifer French is the other), and the obvious pride he has in his Sikh heritage reminds the other parties that they don’t have a lock on the south Asian vote.

On the other hand, some of Singh’s caucus colleagues are thinking farther down the road. They’re getting their own leadership ducks in line, on the chance that the NDP will fail to break through in the 2018 election: Horwath’s third — and should the party disappoint, presumably her last — as leader. Having Singh out of provincial politics would clearly improve their chances of succeeding her.

Perhaps the bigger question is why Singh would be attracted to federal politics at all. After all, it’s the Ontario wing of his party that’s polling extremely well at the moment, in second place and fully nine points ahead of the governing Liberals according to the most recent Forum poll. Compare that to the federal scene, where the Liberals and Conservatives are clearly duking it out for first place, while the NDP is languish in third place with just 15 per cent support.

Having said that, none of the current crop of federal leadership candidates has lit the place up, and perhaps Singh likes his chances of bringing some much-needed flair and attention to a prolonged race, one that won’t pick a winner until October.

Furthermore, New Democrats, perhaps sensing they had little to lose after their disappointing results in the 2015 election, have opted for an unprecedented system of choosing their next leader. There will be no delegated convention, no preferential ballot, and no points system. Instead, all voting will take place online or by mail, using a modified ranked balloting system: When the first ballot results are announced, if no candidate has 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast, only the five candidates with the highest share of the vote will be allowed to remain.  There’ll be a second vote two weeks later, giving the remaining candidates a fresh chance to make their pitches. None of the first ballot votes will carry over — every member will be free to vote for a different candidate on the second ballot. Rounds of voting will continue, with last place candidate being dropped off each time, until one candidate crosses that 50 per cent plus one threshold.

Given Singh’s apparent popularity, particularly in vote-rich parts of Ontario, he must think the other candidates' (MPs Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron, and Peter Julian) head start won't pose particular problems. In fact, my source insists it’s probable that other candidates besides Singh will eventually jump into the race as well. And don’t forget, there’s still a group of Mulcair loyalists who think the current chief was double-crossed at his leadership review in Edmonton. They haven’t given up trying to persuade Mulcair to throw his hat into the ring and fight to keep the job he currently has on an interim basis. Mulcair has shown no indication he’s considering doing that. Of course, he hasn’t told those supporters to shut down their efforts either.

So, the NDP leadership race appears ready to get just a bit more interesting. All we need now is the official word from Singh. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Niki Ashton's name. TVO regrets the error.

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