NDP leadership candidate Martin Singh speaks to Yahoo! about attracting the small business vote

Andy Radia
·Politics Reporter

Last October, when Martin Singh announced he was running for the NDP leadership, many Canadians were quick to utter the words: "Martin who?"

What Canadians have learned over the past several weeks is that Singh isn't your prototypical New Democrat.

Born as Martin Hill, Singh was raised in a Protestant family in Nova Scotia and later converted to the Sikh faith.

He's a pro-business member of the NDP and, with his brother, owns a successful chain of pharmacies in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Here are some excerpts from his interview with Yahoo! Canada News:

Yahoo!: Coming into this race, you were a virtual unknown. In fact, when you first announced that you were running for the leadership, some newspaper headlines read 'Martin who?' Do you believe you can win the leadership?

Singh: While some Canadians may say 'Martin who' the New Democratic party is not the same way. I have been a New Democratic for 15 years, I have attended each and every one of the conventions going back to [2000 or 2001.] And so I have been very active.

People are responding...I do believe I can win.

Yahoo!: What do you bring to the leadership race that others don't? In other words, if I was a NDP member why would I vote for you?

Singh: One of the main reasons [you'd vote for me] is because I am, for the first time ever, a [NDP] leadership candidate who comes from the business community.

Canadians know that the NDP does a very good job of tackling the issues which resulted in equality between rich and poor, men and women, so on and so forth.

In addition we also do a very good job and are trusted by Canadians with creating social programs — not the least of which medicare.

What [I'm] trying to do is basically fill the third piece of the puzzle.

The third part of the equation is to get Canadians to trust us on managing the economy.

When I was making my decision to run people said 'Martin, you were a successful business person…you and your brother have companies in both Nova Scotia and Ontario, you have about 160 employees and you have been a member of the NDP for 15 years. Please run. Put to death this lie [about the NDP being poor stewards of the economy] that has been perpetuated upon us by the other political parties.'

Yahoo!: Can you give us an overview of your small business platform?

Singh: The plan is multi-pronged. We're trying to come at this from a number of different angles. The reason why we did this is because it is in contrast to the Conservative [party's] singularly focused plan of just lowering taxes.

Training is [one thing] we can work on. We can educate people who are in the small business milieu with say 10 employees or lower, and educate them as to the benefits of getting into financing, in taking on partners and growing their business beyond that.

We're also looking to create a mentoring program. What happens now is a lot of companies are unwilling to take on students and as a result many co-op programs go stagnant or inactive. So what we're saying is if companies want tax cuts we're going to tie those tax cuts to the number of students that they take.

Moving beyond that...we want to look [at] alternative ways of financing. One method that's used in immigrant communities across Canada, but also others, is a concept that is loosely called "love money"

If you need financing for your business you go to people who 'love' you — your friends your family.

You got to think more people would offer financing to those they care about if they knew that they might get a tax break [for] doing so, which compensates them for their risk.

Yahoo!: The leadership race doesn't seem to be getting a lot of attention. People in the media are calling it a 'boring' race. In fact, the U.S. Republican race seems to be getting more attention in Canada than the NDP race. Why do you think that is?

Singh: I can tell you that I have been across this country 5, maybe 6 times and when I go to doorsteps of New Democrats they are tuned in and interested.

[And at the debates] I see cameras and I see people, so as far as I'm concerned, people are getting engaged in the race.

The fact that it doesn't generate the fire and brimstone that the Republican race generates is just fine with me.