Walkom: It’s ka-ching for Singh as donors flock to stylish MPP

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 (OAS) 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-co-ordinated 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.

Thomas Walkom is a national affairs writer.

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