By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Hobbled by pneumonia and with his campaign out of cash, NDP MP Romeo Saganash has decided to pull out of the NDP leadership race, it emerged Thursday, even as some of his most ardent supporters scrambled to find an 11th hour solution to keep the Cree politician in the running.
Saganash, the first Indigenous person to ever run for the leadership of a federal party in Canada, is expected to announce his decision Friday to drop out of the race in his riding at the Hotel Continental in Val d’Or, Que., at about 11 p.m. local time.
Saganash’s decision to call it quits came after his campaign ran out of money and while he was battling pneumonia and dealing with sickness in his family, supporters said. Many of his supporters reacted with shock and sadness at the news.
Still, some held out hope late Thursday a last ditch effort could convince him to change his mind.
When reached Thursday evening after the news broke on Twitter, Saganash said, “don’t believe what Twitter says” before hanging up.
A source close to Saganash, however, confirmed he planned to pull the plug on his leadership bid.
Saganash told one of his supporters over Facebook earlier in the day that he was quitting the race because his campaign ran out of cash.
“Announcing tomorrow that I have to withdraw,” wrote Saganash to Calgary artist Lee Deranger. “No…funds.”
Deranger responded writing, “Don’t..I think I can help, let’s go public with a plea for help.”
Saganash wrote back saying not to bother.
“No, don’t waste the money!”
Saganash’s campaign released a statement announcing his withdrawal. It was supposed to be embargoed until 11 a.m. Friday, but journalists reported its contents as news spread that the MP for Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-Eeyou would be pulling out of the race.
“It is impossible to run a winning campaign as the favourite second choice. People send you good wishes, but they don’t send their money”, said Saganash, in the statement.
Saganash’s campaign never really managed to gain traction in a race overshadowed by candidates like Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair and party strategist Brian Topp.
Deranger, who hosted Saganash during a campaign stop in Calgary this past December, said the campaign was being run on a “shoe-string.” Deranger said that Saganash was avoiding hotels and staying in people’s homes during his campaign stops.
“He is not doing the fancy campaign trail,” said Deranger. “He is staying at people’s homes, we are feeding him.”
Deranger, who compared him to South African leader Nelson Mandela, said she gave Saganash a banana and an orange for breakfast before he left her home at dawn with her husband for the drive to the airport.
Deranger said Saganash was hit by pneumonia which forced him to cancel and event in Sudbury, Ont., on Sunday. Deranger said Saganash was home that day being cared for by his family.
Daniel Wilson, Saganash’s campaign manager, confirmed Saganash was battling pneumonia.
“He does have pneumonia,” said Wilson, in an email. “That is a small matter that he is overcoming.”
On Thursday night, Deranger was busy connecting with others in the Saganash camp to find a way to keep the campaign going. She planned to auction off one of her paintings over the weekend and was using social media to stir up support.
“If 1,000 people across this country each put in $5 you have $5,000,” said Deranger.
Wilson said Saganash would not be cancelling his planned announcement Friday.
Saganash supporter Jude MacDonald said the news was hitting his circle of backers hard.
“There are people deeply affected by this,” said MacDonald.
“I cannot believe this. I am in shock,” wrote one supporter on a closed Facebook group for the campaign’s volunteers. “Just got the flyers and was sending them out.”
MacDonald said Saganash’s campaign was hurt by the media’s focus on a horse race, which ignored the ideas of a man with experience ranging from the local to the international sphere. MacDonald said Saganash also faced a rigid leadership race structure.
“If we have a party that is truly sympathetic with Aboriginal leadership, maybe we should have debates more in keeping with Aboriginal tradition like having a debate in a circle,” she said. “That kind of inclusiveness is more than just a gesture.”
The embargoed statement said that Saganash’s campaign had triggered a “tremendous” reaction among Aboriginal people,” but the work needed to reach their communities required an infrastructure that couldn’t be built in a single campaign.
“There remains much work to do to bring this community to the party, but a strong foundation of hope and engagement now exists,” said Saganash, in the statement.
Saganash is not expected to endorse any other candidates Friday.
“My mother, sisters and brothers and my children all need more attention than I have been able to provide,” said Saganash. “I am unable to devote enough time to them, my constituents or my party and run the kind of campaign that I would like to run.”