South Asian Insider
No miraculous resurgence for NDP, but Singh wins influence
Jagmeet Singh provided rare glimpses of joy, humanity and grace in a brutish campaign to become one of the most influential people in Ottawa. Only eight months ago Jagmeet Singh’s leadership was on such shaky ground that some New Democrats weren’t exactly hoping that he’d lose the Burnaby South byelection, but they weren’t exactly helping him win either. With the party in free-fall early in the year, some blamed Singh and darkly suggested that if he lost the byelection they just might have time to replace him before the election. Singh won convincingly. But the doubts remained. Had New Democrats gone too far by choosing a leader whose Sikh faith is made tangible with his turban and kirpan? Many long-serving MPs retired with no rush of people wanting to take their places. Two-thirds of Canadians had a negative opinion of him. And, there were problems raising money. Today, Singh is the most popular of the federal leaders. More importantly, New Democrats are positioned to heavily influence national policy over the coming months and possibly years. It’s not because Singh engineered a miraculous resurgence. In fact, by deadline, the party was on track to lose as many as 17 of the 44 seats it won in 2015.Still, he did more than most imagined. Singh kept the NDP from being obliterated or overtaken by the Greens. He provided Canadians with glimpses of grace, humanity and even fun during a 40-day contest that was brutish, divisive, pocked with racism and often felt as if it were 40 days too long. Of course, there was also some luck. Both the Liberals and Conservatives collapsed. With no clear majority, the NDP (and the revived Bloc Quebecois) will determine how and for how long Canada will be governed in the coming months.Several party loyalists told me that there were two turning points in the campaign. The first was his emotional response to the news that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had masqueraded in blackface. When confronted with racism in the past, Singh admitted he’d fought back with his fists. But at this stage in his life, Singh said he was concerned about all the kids for whom it brought back memories of being hurt, hit, insulted or made to feel less. That’s who Singh said he was thinking about. It’s to them that Trudeau ought to apologize. The second key point was when Singh was the calm among the yellers and fighters at the English-language debate. Singh disagrees. “It was the first day,” he said on the weekend. “While the others were kind of fighting about who was worse or kind of criticizing each other and not really presenting an option, we were making a contrast. We were providing a choice that was hopeful.” It wasn’t until the campaign began that Canadians got to see who Singh is and see themselves reflected back. Among the most memorable moments was when he responded kindly to the polite face of Canadian racism — the grandfatherly Quebecer who confided to Singh that he’d do a lot better if he’d just cut his turban off. Finding shared humanity is part of the NDP leader’s spiritual practice. During the campaign, Canadians also saw a guy who seemed to be enjoying himself. That alone set him apart from Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who both struggled to find their groove. “Without making it personal, they didn’t seem to be having fun,” Singh said. “And if you’re not having fun, it either means that you don’t believe in what you’re doing or what you’re saying. You don’t think you have something worthwhile for people … “The other folks weren’t having fun because they were fighting about each other and saying who was worse and you’re bad and I’m better and you’re worse.” But as of today, the fun’s over. The Liberals need help to govern. How much they need and what they’re willing to do for it will have to wait until the seat count is finalized. Meantime, Singh will bide his time. He’s already talked to B.C. Premier John Horgan about his successful minority government and its agreement with its Green Party partners. But Singh won’t say if that’s what he wants. But Singh likes minority governments. In retrospect, it’s no coincidence that Singh invoked Tommy Douglas’s name when he released the party’s platform in June with its emphasis on expanding health care to include drugs, dental costs as well as costs of eye and hearing care. Douglas introduced universal health care as premier of Saskatchewan. But in the 1960s, Douglas led the federal NDP when it held the balance of power in Lester Pearson’s minority governments. Those minority Parliaments resulted in national health care, the Canada Pension Plan, a new flag and the abolition of capital punishment. “Canadians know what we care about,” Singh said over the weekend. “Those are the things that we talked about during the campaign. Those are the priorities that we would put forward. “And,” he said, “we’ll expect action on them.”
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