Martin Singh has made it official: If he can't be the next federal NDP leader, he wants the job to go to front-runner Thomas Mulcair.
The Nova Scotia pharmacist, a long-shot candidate who's likely to be bumped off the ballot early, announced Wednesday he's urging his supporters to make Mr. Mulcair – the perceived front-runner who also landed support from a Newfoundland MP – their second choice.
"I am running to win," Mr. Singh said in a statement posted on his website. "But I also feel that I have a responsibility to indicate to my supporters who I think is the next best choice after me. I have settled on recommending Thomas Mulcair as my second choice."
Mulcair campaign director Raoul Gebert hailed the announcement, which follows endorsements from two former candidates, Romeo Saganash and Robert Chisholm, as a sign that "New Democrats of every stripe are uniting behind Tom's candidacy."
"Support from three other candidates in just three weeks – that speaks for itself."
However, rival camps predicted the clumsy manner in which Mr. Singh finally tipped his hand may erode the value of his endorsement —or even backfire on the Quebec MP.
Rival contender Peggy Nash openly questioned Wednesday whether Singh was acting on Mr. Mulcair's behalf recently in mounting "out-of-character" attacks against herself and former party president Brian Topp.
"Things are starting to add up and it's disconcerting," the Toronto MP said in an email. "It is perfectly acceptable for a candidate to express their second choice. The problem is whether or not Mr. Singh is actively helping Mr. Mulcair."
Mr. Singh's announcement followed several days of vehement denials that he was working in co-ordination with Mr. Mulcair – something rival camps have suspected for months.
Sukh Johal, a former western organizer for Singh, told The Canadian Press on Monday that he expected Mr. Singh to endorse Mr. Mulcair as his second choice within the next day or two.
Mr. Johal, who claims to have recruited 4,500 new party members for Singh among B.C.'s South Asian community, said he was now working for Mr. Mulcair and encouraging those supporters to rank the front-runner as their second choice.
Mr. Singh's camp dismissed Mr. Johal's assertions as "a work of fiction" and denounced him as "a disgruntled ex-member of our campaign who was let go for non-performance and non-compliance."
It appeared Wednesday that Mr. Johal was no longer working for Mr. Mulcair.
In his statement, Mr. Singh gave no reasons for choosing Mr. Mulcair as his second choice. But he did resume his attacks on Mr. Topp, who has been his primary target for several weeks.
"Brian Topp's recent insinuation that I have been co-ordinating my campaign with Mr. Mulcair's is completely false," Singh said. "It is insulting and demeaning to my supporters and me.
"I am running to win, which means my first priority is to defeat Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Topp and the other four candidates. Second choice is second choice."
As he did during the final leadership debate Sunday in Vancouver, Mr. Singh denied that he's been playing the role of Mr. Mulcair's attack dog.
In recent debates, he's repeatedly accused Mr. Topp of lying about his tax policy, jeopardizing abortion rights and even of suggesting Jack Layton, the NDP's late revered leader, was not a good New Democrat. Mr. Singh said he's disappointed the Topp camp has insinuated he had "ulterior motives" for going after the former party president.
"I raised this issue in consecutive debates because, in addition to being dismayed that Mr. Topp did not tell the truth the first time, I disagree with his policy and was further dismayed by his portrayal of opponents like me who disagree with him as un-New Democrat," Mr. Singh said.
Topp spokesman Jim Rutkowski declined to "dignify Mr. Singh's ongoing attacks."
"The party has already censured him for his behaviour."
With the vast majority of New Democrats expected to vote online or by mail before the March 24 convention, it's important for Singh to signal his second-choice preference now if he hopes to influence his supporters.
Under the NDP's preferential balloting system, voters rank their choices first through seventh. When a voter's first choice is eliminated, their second and subsequent choices are counted until one candidate emerges with more than 50 per cent of the votes.
Privately, strategists in several rival camps doubted the value of Mr. Singh's endorsement of Mr. Mulcair.
They predicted Mr. Singh's supporters will be confused and upset by the contradictory messages sent out over the last several days and by the treatment of Mr. Johal, who recruited many of them.
With many New Democrats turned off by Mr. Singh's tone, they mused that Wednesday's endorsement may actually backfire on Mr. Mulcair, limiting his potential for second ballot support from other camps.
Mr. Singh's repeated attacks have also created some sympathy for Mr. Topp, a long-time party strategist, and may boost his potential for second ballot growth.
In an apparently unrelated move, a Quebec MP who had initially endorsed Mr. Mulcair announced Wednesday that she has switched her support to Mr. Topp. Sana Hassainia said she was convinced by the former party president's "progressive values" and his proposals to hike taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
But Mr. Mulcair no sooner lost Ms. Hassainia than he gained support from another MP: Newfoundland's Jack Harris. The perceived front-runner has endorsements from 43 of the NDP's 101-member caucus, far more than any of the other six contenders.
Rival camps also questioned the Mr. Singh camp's assertion that it's signed up as many as 10,000 new members.
Joe Cressy, a spokesman for Paul Dewar's campaign, said it's "simply incorrect" to assume Mr. Singh's supporters will follow him en masse to Mr. Mulcair.
He said Mr. Dewar, the party's longtime foreign affairs critic, has strong first and second ballot support among the South Asian community. Last week, the Ottawa MP began running Punjabi radio ads in B.C. and Ontario.