Jagmeet Singh is selling himself as the leadership candidate who would bring in new people to the NDP. But right now, his real strength is his base. He's the king of Brampton. And that happens to be an advantage in this particular national race. Especially if he can parlay it into a buzz.
You could hear Mr. Singh's expansion pitch on Wednesday night as NDP leadership candidates debated in Victoria. "We need to bring in new members, new volunteers and new donors to build our movement," he said.
Mr. Singh's campaign is trying to build a buzz. Buzz is that intangible notion that a candidate has a special something that's going to propel them forward. It's untouchable, by nature. But cash – that's different. You can count leadership-campaign donations, and Elections Canada does. And donation figures released this week showed Mr. Singh is raking in a lot of dough – way more than the other contenders.
Mr. Singh's campaign quickly tried to turn those figures into buzz, suggesting that they showed his national-campaign power. They issued a statement touting the fact that roughly 75 per cent of his donors had never before given money to the federal NDP.
It's obvious why they'd want to tout those numbers as a sign of momentum. The scant polls we have seen so far suggest Mr. Singh is running behind Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus and Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, so it makes sense to spread the notion that newly minted NDPers are popping up from coast to coast to fund Mr. Singh's bid. But the evidence to date, at least, doesn't quite show that.
Mr. Singh entered the race late, in May, and in the first month and a half he raised $353,944 – way more than other leadership contenders. Mr. Angus, the other putative front-runner, the next closest, raised just more than a third of the sum. For Mr. Singh, that's impressive.
But it's not yet proof of coast-to-coast momentum. He raised 43 per cent of the money from Peel Region, the suburbs west of Toronto that include his Brampton riding, Mississauga and Caledon – and $111,838 came from Brampton alone. A lot of the rest came from the Greater Toronto Area over all. Mr. Singh's campaign says they are building on the Ontario base by organizing in British Columbia, where he has opened an office, and now Quebec, where he has hired an organizer. But Mr. Singh raised more money in Mississauga than in Quebec.
Other Peel Region politicians say Mr. Singh was lining up support and donations for months before he officially joined the leadership race in May, although Mr. Singh's campaign insists that is not so. Some supporters of rival candidates believe it was a strategy: Jump in late, scoop up donations in short order and make it like you've got momentum.
It's a good thing to have a base. And Mr. Singh does. Just winning a seat in Peel Region for the provincial NDP was something of a coup. The federal NDP isn't strong in the area now. But Mr. Singh's donor records show he has a base in Peel willing to open their wallets to support his bid. That included the Sikh community from which Mr. Singh hails, as the donor lists appear to include a lot of Punjabi names, but not solely. None of the other leadership candidates have that kind of donor base, and they all represent more remote communities – Mr. Angus, from Timmins, Ont.; MP Guy Caron from Rimouski, Que.; and MP Niki Ashton from Churchill, Man.
But what really matters is memberships. The NDP has about 60,000 members, but leadership candidates have two weeks to sign up more. And the NDP has a one-member, one-vote leadership election – unlike the Conservative leadership race that ended in May, the votes are not weighted by riding or region. If Mr. Singh can sign up big numbers of new supporters in his Peel Region base, elsewhere in the GTA or in the B.C. Lower Mainland where he is recruiting now, that could be a path to victory.
But there's still the existing NDP membership, and it's not easy to recruit 50,000 new ones. But his base, and his late entry into the race with a fistful of donations, just might create a buzz that wins over some of those existing New Democrats, too.