As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jaunted around India and Progressive Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer faced some serious media criticisms, the attention shifted to lesser-known and recently-crowned New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh over the weekend.
Singh was the star attraction at the NDP’s national convention in Ottawa. Could he be just the ticket the NDP has been looking for as it prepares for a 2019 federal election?
The NDP won just 44 seats in the last federal election and garnered just 19.7 per cent of the vote. The party lost 51 seats. The Conservatives lost 60 seats and the Liberals gained 148 seats to form a majority government.
But it’s a new day. And Singh thinks it just might be his day.
Saturday, Singh told the party faithful it could no longer afford to take a back seat to the major parties, including Trudeau’s Liberals.
“The time for timid is over,” Singh said. “Too many people have felt stuck for too long. People are counting on us. We can’t let them down. We need to win.”
But can he win? And is he the right man to lead the party?
The Vancouver Sun asked the last of those questions in an online poll last October. The poll is still running at and at last glance, it showed with 2,801 votes cast, Singh had 1,943 yes votes (a little over 69 per cent). But online polls are hardly scientific, especially with such a small sampling.
The real test comes as he now faces Canadians across the country.
“I don’t have the words to capture this journey and how this feels right now,” he said. “It’s an incredibly profound honour.”
The support he received at the convention over the weekend was a little stronger than the online poll with 91 per cent of the party faithful supporting his leadership.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was one of those supporters.
“It’s a matter of taking the momentum that is building here and pushing that out to the rest of the country,” she told Global News .
“And I know Jagmeet has a lot of energy … so I have a lot of confidence that he’s going to be able to take that energy that’s kind of bubbling around here and move it out to the rest of the nation.”
Singh had lots to say about taxes, public services and even Netflix.
He said taxes “are investments into building a fairer society for us all” before blasting what he described as a “rigged tax system that benefits the ultra-rich” and criticizing those who don’t pay their fair share.
A large part of his attack was directed at foreign web giants, many of which don’t pay income tax in Canada despite repeated calls for the federal government to change that policy as a matter of fairness for Canadian companies.
Singh also blasted the Liberals’ recent agreement with Netflix, which saw the online streaming giant pledge $500 million over five years to set up an office in Canada and create Canadian content, but which has sparked a massive revolt in Quebec.
Singh, the first visible minority to lead a major federal party in Canada, concluded by calling for equality between all Canadians.
Maybe a CBC News headline said it all: “Jagmeet Singh brings something new to the NDP.”
“He is the first non-white leader of a major federal party. He wears a turban and a kirpan. That is history, but it also means a leader who will bring new experiences to the job and new stories to the stage,” writes the CBC’s Aaron Wherry. “But, of course, nothing stays new forever. And Singh will now have to be durable.”
Singh seems to be the darling of the media lately. Trudeau was being criticized for yet another vacation (this one to India), even though he called it a business trip and Scheer took a hit from a Globe and Mail editorial back on Jan. 3 over his views on abortion.
“Mr. Scheer argued that his party is more tolerant of differing views than the Liberal Party is, and as proof he cited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s requirement that Liberal MPs must support a woman’s right to choose in any vote on abortion in the House of Commons,” The Globe and Mail editorial reads.
“And then he said that, if elected, he would not allow anyone in his party to table legislation to restrict or ban abortion, and that “when the [Conservative] caucus takes a final decision on a position, then the rest of the MPs are asked to support that.
There is exactly zero daylight between his position and that of Mr. Trudeau.”
But the NDP party faithful wasn’t too concerned what the Liberals or the Conservatives had to say on anything over the weekend, least of all abortion or a woman’s right to choose.
This was about new ideas, fresh approaches and the look ahead. And with that in mind, the party gave Singh its overwhelming support. Now, we can all watch and see if he can carry that momentum into the next election.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.