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Juggernaut Enters Canada’s Federal Political Arena?





In a party of negativity, he personifies positivity.

The federal NDP has found a phenomenon in Jagmeet Singh, its latest leadership hopeful.

By throwing his proverbial hat in the ring, Jagmeet has thrown down the gauntlet to New Democrats. And all Canadians.

Is the NDP ready for Jagmeet Singh, whose name itself evokes Canadian diversity? And does he have what it takes to take over the Prime Minister’s Office?

Jagmeet is often compared to the current occupant, Justin Pierre James Trudeau -- son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, whose name embodied Canadian duality (before multiculturalism and First Nations reclaimed their rightful place).

Both exude energy and style, athleticism and enthusiasm. Each is a fighter -- Trudeau a boxer, Jagmeet a mixed martial arts expert.

Like Trudeau, Jagmeet is not yet fully formed as he seeks his party’s leadership. But like the oft-underestimated prime minister, Jagmeet has natural talent and great growth potential -- major considerations in any political contest.

As deputy leader of Ontario’s NDP, Jagmeet has served as poster child for a party trying to reposition itself from a mostly white base to a multicultural demographic. The son of a psychiatrist and teacher who emigrated from Punjab; born in Scarborough, raised in Newfoundland and Windsor; educated in law and schooled in street politics; proficient in both official languages, he is an all-Canadian success story.

And a media darling, featured in fashion shoots and profiled in favourable columns.

Bicycling across Toronto in tailor-made three-piece suits, topped by pink or orange turbans, he blazed a trail for Sikhs. But not every journey is a juggernaut, and the road from his Brampton riding to Ottawa will put Jagmeet through his political paces.

At home he is a local hero, inspiring brigades of young volunteers and drawing support from a large voting bloc. Outside Ontario he still has to prove himself, but his candidacy will also be a test for both party and country.

How will his turban and kirpan play in Quebec, a province whose political classes keep debating legal bans on the wearing of religious symbols, and whose voters punished the NDP for defending burkas in the last federal election? Is the rest of the country ready?

Will Jagmeet’s playful banter and fist bumps work with working people? Will his aspirational policies and generalities suffice for a party that prides itself on progressive but sometimes unpopular ideas?

New Democrats can be a tough crowd; unions, too. Trudeau’s emphasis on both ability and winnability worked well with Liberals, but could be a hard sell in an NDP leadership race. Trudeau had a strong team of advisers and organizers, while some of Jagmeet’s brain trust and ground game remain untested.

Judging by his campaign kick-off speech, Jagmeet’s platform -- like the candidate himself -- remains a work in progress. He promised “loving and courageous” ideas, but stuck to predictable chapter headings: “inequality, climate change, reconciliation with indigenous communities, and electoral reform.” Details to come.

Echoing Barack Obama’s “audacity of hope,” and Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways,” Jagmeet’s campaign credo is “love and courage.” Which sounds lovely, but doesn’t display much courage, let alone audacity.

The last time we talked, Jagmeet made it clear he wasn’t taking a leap on the Leap Manifesto (whose resistance to resource extraction drove a wedge within the party’s Alberta wing, which happens to be in power). His personal passions are human rights and inequality -- not always top of mind for voters -- but he understands retail politics, long crusading for lower auto insurance rates.

Jagmeet may be the new kid on the federal block, but his declared rivals dare not underestimate him. Charlie Angus, the veteran MP from northern Ontario, is perhaps his best-known competitor but suffers by comparison.

While Angus bespeaks old school, Jagmeet’s bespoke suits are something new. Angus is dowdy, Jagmeet dapper. The older MP is chippy, the younger MPP chipper.

Jagmeet is endowed with a disarming mix of personal humility and sartorial vanity, confidence and presence, that makes him stand out in any room. After dumping their dour leader, Thomas Mulcair, the NDP may be in the mood for a return to the “happy warrior” motif of former leader Jack Layton that resonated with voters.

[Courtesy: The Toronto Star. Edited for]
May 18, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Kiran Kaur (New Jersey, USA), May 18, 2017, 12:01 PM.

There are important lessons to be learnt from Jagmeet's meteoric rise, for Sikh-Americans and Sikh-Britons who have, so far, made no serious inroads into the political arena. And before anyone even thinks that Jagmeet is a mere flash in the pan, need I point to Canada's current Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan? Or the other Canadian Ministers: Navdeep Singh Bains, Bardish Kaur Chagger, Amarjeet Singh Sohi ...? All smart cookies, these! What's holding us back?

2: Mandeep Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 27, 2017, 6:20 PM.

I would add another to that list - Preet Singh Bharara. While I believe Jagmeet has done great things to help unwarranted searches by police officers, his competitor Niki Ashton has been fighting for numerous social causes and has been an ardent speaker on such issues as LGBTQ rights, women's rights, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc. She is fighting for all but perhaps more vocally and more so in a way that today's younger Canadians wish more of our politicians would. Maybe when Jagmeet begins to speak about his policies I will be able to support him, but until then, I shall not be taking any side.

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