NDP candidates prepare final pitches as perceived front-runner targeted

Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh have been competing for months for the leadership of the NDP and on Sunday they will make their final appeals for support during a "Leadership Showcase." Voting on Tom Mulcair's replacement begins Monday.

Candidates will take to the stage in Hamilton during a Leadership Showcase

From left, Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Quebec MP Guy Caron. (Canadian Press)

The four candidates running for the federal NDP leadership will take to a stage in Hamilton on Sunday afternoon and make one final appeal to party members for their votes.

The Leadership Showcase coincides with the NDP's caucus meetings where MPs are talking about strategies and priority issues for the fall session in Parliament. But they are also focused on who is the best choice to replace Tom Mulcair — Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Guy Caron or, newcomer to the federal scene, Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh.

Singh — the perceived front-runner — had to play defence on Saturday when some competitors raised the fact that he doesn't have a seat in the House of Commons, and one Quebec MP raised doubts about his ability to connect to voters in that province because he wears religious symbols. Singh, who is Sikh, wears a turban and kirpan, a small sword worn on a strap or belt. 

Pierre Nantel told Radio-Canada that while Singh, 38, is charismatic, Quebecers don't want to see their leaders wearing visibly religious symbols. 

Singh disagreed with Nantel's assessment of Quebec voters and said they have a long history of being open-minded and progressive and that he's confident in his ability to "reach out to people on the issues that matter."

On mobile? View the live blog here.

He said he's shown during his campaign that he has a deep respect for Quebec and will continue to demonstrate that. He's never asked people to accept the way he looks, Singh said.

"People in Quebec accept that I have the values and the beliefs — the social democratic and progressive beliefs — that will benefit Quebec," said Singh, who was at the Hamilton Convention Centre Saturday evening doing interviews and rehearsing Sunday's speech.

Nantel issued a written statement that he posted on Twitter Sunday morning, further explaining his views.

22 minutes

Each leadership hopeful will make a 22-minute presentation during which they will lay out their vision for the party and make the case for why they are the best person to lead it. The presentations are expected to include videos, music, as well as family members and supporters vouching for the candidate.

About 124,600 NDP members are eligible to vote and will cast their ranked ballots over the next two weeks online and by mail. The results will be revealed on Oct.1, and if no one receives a majority of the votes the rounds will continue. Members rank their picks in order of preference.

CBC News will have special coverage of the NDP leadership showcase on Sunday, including livestreaming video and a live blog on cbc.ca/politics, and on FacebookYouTube and CBC News Network. Rosemary Barton hosts coverage of the candidates' speeches starting at 2 p.m. ET. 

Singh goes into the voting feeling confident. 

"I absolutely think we will get enough support to win, whether it's the first ballot or second ballot or third ballot I'm not sure. But I'm absolutely confident we'll have enough support from the new members we've signed up as well as existing membership to be able to pull the win out," he said.

Singh has led the way in fundraising and claims to have signed up 47,000 of the party's 83,000 new members, a figure that can't be verified by the party and has been put into question by Angus's campaign.

Angus also said he's feeling good and that his showcase on Sunday will demonstrate how he is the right choice to lead the party in the next election.

"We had an enormous opportunity to form government in 2015 and we blew it," Angus said.

Angus, a northern Ontario MP since 2004, said the party became too centralized and lost touch with members on the ground. His sales pitch will be that he can rebuild relationships with the grassroots.

"I'm the guy that's been on the ground, I'm a straight shooter and I get what's happening in the real world," he said.

He's not concerned that he doesn't have as much support from his caucus as other candidates. He said he's got plenty of support from other New Democrats. "I'm feeling that we've got what we need to pull that vote," he said.

Rebuilding in Quebec

Aside from Nantel's comments, a lot of discussion among the NDP caucus has been about which candidate can revitalize party support in Quebec.

In the 2011 election, the province helped propel the NDP to Official Opposition. But the "Orange Wave," as the party's success was dubbed, crashed in the 2015 election. The NDP lost a lot of ground, electing just 16 MPs in the province.

Caron said the NDP needs a leader who can build bridges between Quebec and the rest of the country and connect with Quebecers.

Singh speaks to reporters in Hamilton during the NDP caucus meetings. He said he is feeling confident about his chances of winning the party's leadership. (CBC)

"I'm that candidate," he said. "We cannot hope to form government in 2019 without being able to regain our strength in Quebec."

Singh, who speaks French, made the case that he is the one who can best revive enthusiasm for his party in Quebec. He said his strong fundraising and membership sales there prove it.

"Absolutely I feel like I cannot only maintain what we have in Quebec but grow us in Quebec," he told reporters. He added that the party also needs to aim to get seats in urban centres and suburbs, and Atlantic Canada. Singh represents a riding in Brampton, close to Toronto.

Ashton, right, listens to Angus speak during a leadership debate in Montreal on March 26. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Angus said Quebec will be a priority for him because there are still opportunities there for growth. "After the race Quebec will be job one," he said.

Ashton, running for leader for a second time, said rebuilding in Quebec is "critical."

"As a party, we have to reconnect with the sense of being a movement," she said. 

Ashton, 35, said she's put forward "a bold vision" in her campaign and she will share it again during her time on stage Sunday. She said her showcase will reflect the importance of how important the grassroots members are and she noted a lot of her supporters are from her Millennial generation.

"I'm excited we are in the home stretch," she said about the conclusion of the long race.​


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan