The race to lead the federal New Democratic Party has finally gotten a shake-up, as Ontario provincial politician Jagmeet Singh jumped into the fray.
At an announcement in Brampton, north of Toronto, on Monday, Singh packed in hundreds of supporters, predominantly young and diverse, as Drake, Bruno Mars, and at least one francophone pop song blared.
Singh, who stands to be the first non-white leader of a national political party in Canada, did not shy away from the fact that he would be unique. The event was held in the Bombay Palace restaurant, and featured a mix of English, French, Punjabi, and Indigenous languages.
“Like many others who stand out, I was picked on because I had a funny sounding name, brown skin, and long hair,” Singh, who is currently told the room full of supporters.
He used the opportunity to switch to French, which he speaks fluently, to offer a few words on languages. “My parents recounted to me how, during their childhood, their language wasn’t respected.”
“Like many others who stand out, I was picked on because I had a funny sounding name, brown skin, and long hair.”
Singh is counting on his bilingualism to pick up support in Quebec, where the party lost big in the last election. Yet while Singh went to great lengths to suggest that he has an understanding of Quebec, he has no real roots in the province — he learned the language in France — and speaks with an anglicized accent.
But what might be of a bigger challenge for the Ontario native is that fact that he doesn’t have a seat in Parliament. He told reporters after the event that he has no immediate plans to resign his provincial seat, nor a plan on how to win one federally. Considering all four seats in Brampton are currently held by newly-elected Liberals — two of whom are cabinet ministers — he may have to wait until the next election to contest a seat. Even then, victory may be hard, as the seats are not NDP-friendly.
Singh also wouldn’t answer when asked whether he thought it was appropriate to collect a provincial salary while running for a federal job.
What is attracting many to Singh, however, is the hope that he can take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau where he’s strongest: Amongst youth. Singh is extreme popular on social media, and has tailored his life in politics around diversity and youth issues.
The candidate’s maiden speech was light on policy details, but Singh said his policy book would focus on “inequality, climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and electoral reform.”
He took aim at Trudeau’s record on climate change and Indigenous issues, but also took aim at the Conservative Party, who is in the middle of its own leadership race, insisting that the candidates are “tripping over each other to drive a wedge between Canadians.”
He denounced rising xenophobia, mentioning the United States, the United Kingdom, and France specifically.
“We have a duty to not only to stand up to hate, but also to create the conditions of a more just and more compassionate society so that there is no space for hate to grow,” he said.
Singh is running on “inequality, climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and electoral reform.”
Singh boasted a handful of endorsers at his highly-anticipated launch on Monday, including two members of the provincial Ontario Parliament and two provincial politicians for the British Columbia and Manitoba NDP wings.
Also backing the candidate is a co-chair of the NDP youth wing and a former NDP Member of Parliament from Quebec.
Brad Lavigne, who served as chief strategist for the NDP’s breakthrough election in 2011, was also on-hand supporting Singh, although said he was merely volunteering for the candidate and had no official role in the campaign.
Singh joins a small field vying to lead the third-place party that still hopes to have a shot in unseating the governing Liberal Party in 2019. He faces off against four members of Parliament — Peter Julian, from B.C; Charlie Angus, from Ontario; Guy Caron, from Quebec; and Niki Ashton, from Manitoba. Also in the race is veterans advocate Pat Stogran.
Singh has held his Brampton seat since 2011, and had previously worked as a trial lawyer.