Kids Corner


Why Jagmeet Singh Towers Over His Rivals:
In Race For Leadership Of Canadian Political Party





Canada's New Democratic Party ('NDP') has a decision to make about social democracy.

As its members begin voting Monday (September 18, 2017) for their next federal leader, will they have the “love and courage” to choose a mixed martial arts fighter from Brampton -- a politician who relies on jujitsu sloganeering instead of slagging his opponents?

Or are they too leery of what Jagmeet Singh represents -- wary of what the electorate at large will think -- to embrace him as an upgraded, updated, unconventional social democrat?

In the homestretch, Jagmeet has finally emerged as the favourite to finish first -- if only New Democrats would stop second-guessing themselves about his suitability, electability and winnability.

Coming out on top hasn’t come easily for the rookie candidate who so handily out-hustled, out-muscled, out-moneyed and outshone his federal rivals in the public eye. The final vote -- staggered over the next few weeks -- will say as much about the state of the party as it does the country.

Is an aging political movement with an outdated fealty to ideology ready to change with the times by embracing a new generation of social democratic fighter?

Jagmeet doesn’t just look different. He sounds different.

Never mind that he would be first party leader to wear a turban -- attire he couldn’t even wear to work in Quebec if that province enacts its notorious legislation barring public servants from wearing religious symbols.

Quite apart from his predilection for the colourful turbans, it’s the way he wears his heart on his sleeve -- and how he dresses in bespoke suits -- that speaks to a personal style unfamiliar to New Democrats more closely identified with hair shirts.

To his credit, Jagmeet has turned a whispering campaign into a talking point that plays to his advantage.

His video encounter this month with a raging racist has gone exponentially viral -- tens of millions of views and counting -- providing earned media that money can’t buy. His subdued performance -- suffocating his antagonist with “love,” effectively killing her with kindness -- was the kind of trial by fire that few politicians face in the glare of the spotlight.

Reliving the video during a meeting with the Toronto Star’s editorial board, Jagmeet said he kept his cool to calm the supporters and aides who rushed to his defence. He has spent a lifetime relying on his powers of persuasion instead of his martial arts prowess.

Now 38, Jagmeet’s youthful visage belies the wisps of grey hair peeking out from under his violet turban during Friday’s visit. Clad in a dapper grey three-piece suit accented by a cream pocket handkerchief (but foregoing socks in his black loafers), he displays the presence and charisma that gave him an uncommonly high profile as deputy leader of Ontario’s NDP.

He has an unquestioned ability to inspire and disarm. The question is whether he’s willing to be unlikeable and unmoveable when he needs to take an unpopular stand.

Jagmeet is good at telling people what they want to hear -- for example, New Democrats won’t countenance any talk of any pipelines anywhere anytime, most especially during a leadership campaign, and Jagmeet plays along. But leaders must also be tough enough to be unloved, saying what needs to be said.

I reminded him on Friday of his soft touch over the province’s overheated sex education controversy, when he coddled opponents in his Brampton riding by echoing the demands of socially conservative parents for perpetual consultations, rather than showing leadership as other MPPs did. Jagmeet reverted to his newly discovered message discipline by recasting himself as a sex-ed warrior all along.

He may be rewriting history here, but at least he has learned his lesson, at last, on the perils of pandering. No one’s perfect, least of all politicians.

The point is to learn from your mistakes, to embrace the learning curve ahead. The best way to grow your vote is to keep growing as a politician.

Jagmeet still has rough edges. At our editorial meeting, he couldn’t put a figure on his proposed tax changes.

He’s no know-it-all. As I’ve written before, perhaps that’s part of his charm at a time when voters are looking beyond polished platforms and prosecutorial demeanours in their opposition leaders.

By all accounts, he has that ineffable quality of personality that makes up for his sometimes plodding or unpolished performances as a debater. But he is no pushover and, like Justin Trudeau — to whom he is often compared — Jagmeet shouldn’t be underestimated merely because he’s no intellectual show-off nor smartypants politician.

Is the party ready for a sympatico, turbaned leader who plays ideological politics differently than his traditionally righteous rivals? A Léger poll last month showed many Quebecers reluctant to vote for someone who wears such a religious symbol in the next election.

Yet Jagmeet Singh is undaunted, noting he has signed up more supporters in Quebec than his rivals, expanding the pool of potential New Democrats beyond the fickle base of Bloc Québécois backers once seduced by the party’s nationalist flirtations. He is expanding the voter pie rather than walking on electoral eggshells.

Ontario’s Liberals grappled with a similar decision point in 2013, when many delegates openly wondered if the province was open to its first lesbian premier. Kathleen Wynne went on to win the next election, surpassing expectations both electoral and attitudinal at the time.

The turban, too, could soon be a minor footnote to Canadian political history — if New Democrats have the love and courage to choose the candidate who is head and shoulders above his rivals.

[Courtesy: The Toronto Star. Edited for]
September 16, 2017

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