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Jagmeet Singh pulled off a tremendous victory on Sunday by being only the third NDP leader to win on a single ballot. Following in the footsteps of Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton, Mr. Singh has big shoes to occupy but he is on track to fill them.
Plenty of people – generally from the left side of the political spectrum – are celebrating what this says about Canadians and what it demonstrates about youth engagement in politics. Singh engaged young people in politics in a way reminiscent of the appeal of Trudeau senior and junior. The claim by some that he won based on the support of a single ethnicity is the tired old chestnut often used by others to explain their losses.
What really surprised me were calls to CBC Radio from a few card-carrying Conservatives who said that they aren’t crazy about Andrew Scheer. While they all said they would not vote Liberal due to a dislike of Trudeau, they’d check out the NDP platform more carefully and might go in that direction next time round. Getting a conservative to change his/her mind is no small feat so hats off to Singh on that accomplishment alone.
Singh’s win is a historic moment in Canada. He is the first person of colour to be elected leader of a major Canadian political party. He is a turban-wearing, kirpan-carrying Sikh who shares his experiences with racism openly. The young trial lawyer is a martial arts devotee and a member of the selfie generation. With Singh’s election, 43-year old Trudeau has become the elder statesman of party leaders in comparison to Singh and Andrew Scheer who were both born in 1979.
Singh isn’t politically untested. He’s had the experience of some successes in the legislature. He fought for policies that would combat racism and worked with the Black community to pass legislation banning the practice of carding, whereby citizens of colour are disproportionately targeted.
Singh introduced a motion calling on the Liberal government to reduce auto insurance premiums by 15 per cent. In November 2014, Singh voted against the government’s legislation entitled “Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Rates Act”, after arguing there were major shortcomings in the legislation regarding the driver’s right to sue auto insurance companies. In 2015, Singh introduced a private member’s bill to the legislature regarding Tarion. Singh’s proposed legislation would give the ombudsman the jurisdiction to investigate the practices of the corporation, as well as force them to produce detailed records including listing those who made the ‘sunshine list’.
He was not an unknown going into campaign mode before the election.
One moment in that campaign went viral when a racist heckler who identified herself as Jennifer Bush on YouTube – a woman from the far-right, anti-Islam group Rise Canada – accused him of being in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood and a supporter of Sharia Law. He responded to her by leading the audience in a chant of “love and courage.” He did not correct her by pointing out that he is Sikh and not Muslim. “While I’m proud of who I am, I purposely didn’t go down that road because it suggests their hate would be okay if I was Muslim.”
Most commentators praised Singh’s courage and grace and his ability to defuse the ugly moment with positive energy. It was especially telling to some people, given that he did this on the spur of the moment, which seems to be an indication of his true character and aplomb under pressure. However, in many ways he’d been preparing for a day like that all of his life as a person of colour and a very visible minority growing up in Canada. All one has to do is read the comments section of any Canadian newspaper to know the sad fact that racism is alive and well and living in Canada too.
Singh’s confidence and his bespoke suits are often seen by detractors as proof of his arrogance. But being picked on as a child also forced him to learn to portray confidence. He said, “It makes you less of a target when you are very sure of yourself. I tried to carry myself confidently and I had to try to develop this mentality that people are going to stare at me, they are going to look at me, so I better give them something to look at.”
The emergence of such a strong third party candidate like Jagmeet Singh is a positive sign given the ‘cluster-flub’ that is current U.S. politics. Countries like Canada and the US are known for the diversity of their population. Two parties are not enough to represent that diversity.
If a voter in a two-party system has one issue that determines which party he/she will vote for they will automatically vote for the party that represents that single view, even though they may disagree with most of their other positions. This may explain in part the otherwise incomprehensible election of Donald Trump who gained the religious right vote due to his switch to being anti-abortion.
In a two-party system the parties often have completely opposing views. Consequently, they tend to reverse the policies of the previous government when voted into power. This does not benefit the state in the long run as we see with Trump’s apparent attempt to strike down every single one of Obama’s eight years of accomplishments even though he has nothing to replace them.
The American political party model is the minority worldwide; most other democracies have three or more parties. Canada’s minority parties are influential and capable of winning elections. Having ‘my’ Liberals lose is a risk I’m willing to embrace in the interest of maintaining a strong multi-party system.
The biggest ‘legitimate’ complaint about Mr. Singh and the NDP is its lack of a strong economic policy. The three broad pillars in his platform are universal health system, retirement pensions, and protections for the rights of workers. Are those things really so divorced from the economic side of policy? The party also has a strong income security plan, a strong taxation fairness platform and a strong economic inclusion plan. Just because Conservatives don’t like this economic vision doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.
There is some glee from the right (and a bit of trepidation for Liberals like myself) that Singh’s ‘love and courage’ might replace ‘sunny ways’ and win back some NDP supporters who voted Liberal last time. That could be a boon for the Conservatives.
Whatever transpires, the world might do well to embrace love, courage and sunshine even over economic issues. If we don’t have a country worth living in, what difference will a balanced budget make? I’m not sure when being a decent person with inclusive philosophies became a matter of ridicule and scorn. We can easily survive a tax reform but we won’t survive racism and violence.
There are those who think the NDP will never form a federal government. But many unlikely things have happened in Canadian politics over the last decade: an NDP government was elected in Alberta, the Liberals collapsed to a distant third place in 2011 and the NDP swept Quebec. Then the NDP collapsed in 2015 and the Liberals surged from a distant third place to form a majority government. Politics is anything but static.
I think a Liberal loss in 2019 is unlikely. Federally, only two majority governments have ever been defeated after only one term in Canada, and both governed in the midst of economic depressions. Canada is doing very well right now so I doubt that Mr. Trudeau will lose – certainly not to an Andrew Scheer-led government. The charismatic and much loved Jack Layton couldn’t get the NDP over the hump to persuade Canadians that it is a realistic governing party and now Jagmeet Singh has that formidable mountain to climb. Can he do it? No one knows yet, but at the very least Singh makes a refreshing change to ‘politics as usual’.
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Following a career in the hospitality sector and the acquisition of a law and justice degree in her 50s, Dale embarked on a writing career armed with the fanciful idea that a living could be made as a freelancer. To her own great surprise she was right. The proof lies in hundreds of published works on almost any topic but favourites include travel, humour & satire, feature writing, environment, politics and entrepreneurship. Having re-invented herself half a dozen times, Dale doesn’t rule anything out. Her time is divided equally between Muskoka and Tampa Bay with Jim, her husband of 8 years and partner of 32 years. Two grown ‘kids’ and their spouses receive double doses of love and attention when she’s at home.