As part of our coverage of the NDP leadership, we’re running interviews with each of the candidates here at Macleans.ca. Previously, we chatted with Nathan Cullen, Peggy Nash, Paul Dewar and Niki Ashton. Next up, Martin Singh. Our Gabriela Perdomo chatted with Mr. Singh yesterday.
Q: You are a pharmacist, a businessman, and you don’t currently hold political office. Before this race, what was your involvement in politics?
A: I’ve been active in the NDP for many years, about 15, working in a number of federal and provincial election campaigns. And also, more recently, [I was] elected as president of the NDP’s Faith and Social Justice Commission, and I’m president of the Sackville-Eastern Shore riding association.
Q: What prompted you to run? Why now?
A: When I first joined the party 15 years ago I did it after carrying out a careful investigation, and I became aware that they party has three key strengths. The first being reducing inequality, the second one being building strong social programs, and, also, at least when they form provincial governments, a very good job of managing the economy; good stewardship of the economy and engaging the private sector. So, for a person like myself, being a member of the business community, I was very much attracted to this. Our opponents at the federal level do not have a good stewardship of the economy and are not being able to reach to the private sector, and I was always confused by this. So, I was approached by some people who said, ‘You know, Martin, we think it would be very good if you could run, so at the very least we can put this myth to an end by the end of the leadership race. To have someone with a strong business background who also has a good standing in the party, would be great to run for the leadership campaign.’
Q: This must have been quite a big experience for you, running for the leadership. Were you out of your comfort zone?
A: Well, I’m very familiar with the political process. I volunteered for Jack [Layton]’s leadership campaign in 2002-2003 so I knew from that perspective what was involved in the campaign itself. What we’ve done, and I believe we have a good shot at winning—and I am running to win—is we’ve put out three solid policy documents. One is on jobs and entrepreneurship, the second one is on the national pharmacare plan and the third one is on the environment.
Q: What do you take from this experience of being a leadership candidate?
A: What I take is, I see the positive role that government and politics can play in this country. We started sharing the policy ideas with Canadians generally by putting them on the website and through mass media. And we had people, not only New Democrats but people who have never voted NDP before, contacting us and saying, ‘I think it’s fantastic that you’re putting these measures forward.’ And these are people whom I’ve never met, and may never meet, but they’ve joined the NDP to support this campaign. So what it tells you is, if you’re willing to putting yourself out there with solid ideas and provide a commitment to serving Canadians in the best way possible, Canadians will respond in kind. They will engage you and support you in that effort.
Q: You say you have signed on over 6,000 new members into the party. Who are these people? Where are they coming from?
A: They’re from right across Canada. We’ve signed on people right here in my home province of Nova Scotia; in Atlantic Canada; we signed up a bunch of people in Quebec and through the Prairies and British Columbia. I would say that membership sign-up for us reflects that of the party, generally meaning that the party has its largest base in BC and in Ontario and I would say that’s where the largest amount of our supporters are coming from, too.
Q: I asked this same question to Niki Ahston. You both had the lowest amount of campaign contributions compared to the other leadership candidates—this based on available numbers. Is there a lesson in fundraising for you here?
A: Certainly more is better when you’re running in campaigns. But I’m very pleased with the work of my national campaign team. In addition, we’re not finished yet. We’re still working on it and certainly we have time. But I’m very pleased with the team and the work they’ve done up to now.
Q: During this campaign, have you felt like an outsider, or have you felt supported by the other candidates and the party?
A: I must say that the NDP is like one big family. I get up in the morning and I speak with New Democrats right through the very end of night. It’s like I did not die but I went to heaven! It’s that enthusiasm that gives me the energy to continue to work every single day to the end of the campaign. The experience has been delightful, and a pleasure.
Q: Are you surprised at all, in any way, by your performance in this race?
A: I’m humbled by the support that I’ve received from Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It’s been an absolute delight to engage New Democrats and Canadians from other political backgrounds who have joined the NDP as a result of my campaign. I’m deeply touched.
Q: You say that if you don’t win you’re going to run for Parliament. Tell me about those plans.
A: There hasn’t been a lot of focus on that lately because I’m in the middle of a leadership race. All my efforts are going into the leadership race. Post-leadership race, my intention is to run for Parliament. That is the plan.
Q: In terms of policy, would your campaign for Parliament also be based on the three documents you put out for the leadership race?
A: I would argue that [the three issues in the policy documents] are the most important for Canadians. That’s why we’re speaking to them directly and that’s why we put so much time and effort in putting those documents together. That’s why you see the detail contained in those documents. We’re very pleased with those documents. They speak to what’s important to Canadians, but also speak to the strength of my background as a business person and as a pharmacist and my activist work that I’ve done with the environmental movement.
Q: Tell me more about how you think the NDP is best positioned to support businesses as opposed to being a party that may be seen as ignoring the private sector.
A: This is definitely perception and not reality. When you look at what’s being done in Manitoba, for example. They’ve reduced the small business tax to zero per cent. And it’s an NDP government there. Moreover, Jack [Layton] in the 2008 and 2011 elections spoke directly to the need to engage the small business community. I’m taking this one step further, not just because I’m interested in it but because I know from all the work that I’ve done that many New Democrats have the skills, experience and knowledge required to put together the best policy plan for engaging the private sector and business community and also being good stewards of the economy. I believe this is most certainly the truth because I live it: I’m a business owner and a New Democrat and I see them working together very well.
Q: There are only two weeks left before the leadership convention. Are you going to endorse another candidate?
A: One of the interesting things about this leadership race is that we’re using a preferential ballot system, which we’re using for advance voting. That means voters can put a “number one” beside their first choice and a “number two” beside their second choice and so on. On the actual election [day], the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped out of the race and then those votes move to the second choice. That goes on until one person is chosen with over 50 per cent of the votes. This particular voting system is not unique to the NDP and is not unique to Canada. What happens is that candidates can recommend a second choice to their own voters. I’ve been thinking for a long time whom to recommend to my supporters to put down as their second choice and I’ve settled on Tom Mulcair. I will be communicating that to my supporters but, of course, everyone’s second choice is their own.
Q: Speaking of Thomas Mulcair… Following last Sunday’s debate in Vancouver, an article by the Canadian Press quoted a spokesman for Brian Topp saying that you and Mulcair are working in “a co-ordinated strategy” to attack Topp. The article suggests you were acting as somewhat of an attack dog for Mulcair. What do you say to that?
A: It’s a speculative article. This story really goes back to the Quebec debate. What happened is, I asked Mr. Topp about his tax policy and its impact on charities and he chose not to tell the truth in that particular debate, nor in further opportunities to clarify himself. Since then, Mr. Topp’s campaign, instead of choosing to be forthright in what’s being discussed there, has chosen to smear me and my campaign by saying that I am an attack dog for Mr. Mulcair. This is unfortunate because not only is he trying to denigrate my campaign, this is also insulting and demeaning to my supporters. I am in this to win. And to that end, I need to beat every candidate in this race—including Mr. Mulcair.