Jagmeet Singh: pioneering party leader could be the Trudeau Canada hoped for

The first person of colouring to lead a major Canadian political party has been compared to the Liberal leader but insists he does not merely talk the talk

Jagmeet Singh hovered between tables, switching seamlessly between languages as he obliged photo requests. For a young mother from Ethiopia, the Canadian legislator had a greeting in Amharic. To her friend from Eritrea, he offered a few lines of Tigrinya, plucked from a linguistic arsenal that Singh estimates includes a word or phrases from about 45 tongues.

It’s a handy skill for a legislator are stationed in Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities. But for the 38 -year-old- who lately became the first person of colour to lead a major political party in Canada – it’s also a nod to how he’s seeking to define himself in a global climate marked by Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.

” At a period when we’re seeing the rise of a scary form of politics- divisive politics- I hope that I represent the opposite of all that ,” the leader of the progressive New Democratic party told the Guardian.” I hope I represent a type of politics where we bring people together, which is something we inspire people- and we do it with this motivating of building a world that’s better for everybody .”

He’s keenly aware that this brand of politics might remind many of another Canadian legislator: Justin Trudeau, the country’s Liberal prime minister .” We should always be striving to go further and be more appropriate ,” Singh deadpanned. With a chuckle, he added:” And my slant is that I’m just better .”

Singh, a practising Sikh and a cycling fanatic, burst on to the national stage in October with a decisive victory that set him at the helm of Canada’s third-largest party.

He takes the reins of a party with a political platform that includes decriminalising all medications, expanding universal health care, creating taxes on high earners and tackling precarious run.

Singh:’ The reality is that I’m in an uphill battle .’ Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
But even as progressive motions
bloom around the world, the NDP is struggling. The party began the last federal electoral campaign with a legitimate shot at taking power ,~ ATAGEND but instead considered its share of seats plunge from 95 to 44 as centre-left voters flocked to Trudeau’s Liberal party.Midterm elections in recent weeks suggest the NDP continues to lose ground.

Singh chalked up the federal election loss to Trudeau’s ability to better connect with voters.” I would say, in fairness, he voiced good, he talked about some things that were good ,” he told.” But then I would say just appear a bit deeper into what he’s done, beyond broad proclamations .”

This is where Singh is hoping to capitalise in the run-up to the country’s next federal election, slated for 2019. ” It’s one thing to say you’re feminist ,~ ATAGEND but then what does that entail? Not selling arms to a regime that is the most repressive and probably one of the worst human rights violators, particularly towards females, like Saudi Arabia ?” Singh asked, alluding to the government’s decision to push forward with a billion-dollar arms deal with the country .

More than two years after Trudeau swept into power, little has been done to address a gender pay gap that ranks among the highest in the OECD.” Instead of just talking about the fact that women should be equal, let’s set legislation that enforces pay equity. We don’t have that .

Singh fulfils with a young activist in Ontario. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
The Trump presidency is another, trickier instance, said Singh. While other western leaders
have at times criticised the president’s actions ,~ ATAGEND Trudeau has remained tight-lipped, saying earlier this year that it was not his place to” lecture another country “.

Singh said he would do things differently.” I think there’s a certain principle you can’t compromise. If someone is being misogynistic, you have to name it. It’s not convenient to talk about discrimination, but if you don’t do it, you allow it to exist. So you have to name it ,” he told.

Born in Canada to mothers from Punjab, Singh has been vocal about his experience of growing up as a minority in Canada. In doing so, he’s dragged some of the darker aspects of Canada’s vaunted promotion of multiculturalism into the spotlight- from the relentless bully he suffered as a child to the 11 hours that he’s been stopped by police because of his appearance.

Singh says such experiences also explain his fondness for well-cut suits- a hallmark of wealth not usually links with leftist politicians.” As a kid, I got a lot of attention- and it was bad attention ,” he told.” So I thought: you know what, let me give them something to stare at. Let me simply own this .”

He’s quick to contrast his background with that of Trudeau, the son of a former “ministers ” and who worked as a drama teacher and snowboarding teacher before inducing the leaping into politics.” I get what it’s like to be mistreated or face unfairness simply because of who you are ,” he said.

Singh was in his 20 s when his father became ill, catapulting him into the role of sole income earner in his family. He became the primary caregiver for his younger friend- produce snacks, buying him clothes and even attending parent-teacher interviews- until his father was able to work again.

Singh’s attempts have done little to curb comparisons between him and Trudeau . After all, both are confident, charismatic and savvy social media users who depict swarms of selfie-seekers wherever they go. At periods the parallels are hard to ignore; Trudeau is a boxer while Singh has vied across North America in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Jagmeet Singh (@ theJagmeetSingh)

Man’s not hot pic.twitter.com/ XzEk3RY 0g4

November 18, 2017

And both face critics who describe them as more style than substance. Singh smiled at the assessment, before rattling off a listing of accomplishments. Fluent in English, Punjabi and French, he earned a certain degree in biology before turning to statute. He practised as a criminal defence lawyer for six years, balancing his career with pro bono work for anti-poverty activists and groups dedicated to immigration and refugee rights.

In 2011, he was elected to the Ontario legislature. While there, he fought to improve the working conditions of temporary workers and forbidding racially motivated police checks, rising through the ranks to become the deputy leader of the Ontario NDP.

” So, I don’t know, does that sound like a lack of substance ?” Singh asked.

While less than 2% of Canadians identify as Sikh, Canada’s parliament is home to 20 Sikhs, including four who are part of Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet- making Punjabi the third-most-spoken language in the House of Commons. Even so, Singh’s quest to become the first non-white leader of a national party has laid bare the many challenges that remain.

Some NDP party members in Quebec– where the party holds most of its seats- was contended that the province’s deep belief insecularism would clash with a leader who wears a turban and kirpan.

On his first day as NDP leader, a CBC interview questioned him on the legacy of the 1985 Air India bombing, believed by police to be carried out by Sikh activists living in Canada. Singh pointed out that he was about five years when the bombing took place, but the CBC afterward said the question was fair ,~ ATAGEND alluding to Singh’s involvement with the Sikh Activist Network( a youth group co-founded by two brothers) and his pushing to have the 1984 riots in New Delhi against Sikhs recognised in Ontario as an act of genocide .

Media commentators have asked if Canada is ready for a non-white NDP leader,pointing to a recent poll in which 31% of the 1,477 respondents said they would not vote for a legislator who wore a turban and carried a kirpan .

Singh contrasted these points with an incident from the leadership campaign, when an angry heckler crashed a meet and greet conference and repeatedly accused Singh of wanting to impose Sharia law in Canada.” We believe in love and courage ,” Singh told her, deftly defusing the situation.” We don’t want to be intimidated by abhor .”

Singh takes a selfie with a passerby. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

He subsequently explained in a statement:” I didn’t answer the issues to because my response to Islamophobia has never been:’ I’m not Muslim .’ It has always been- and will be- that loathe is incorrect. Once allowed to grow, dislike doesn’t pick and choose .”

Months subsequently, Singh still describes it as a defining moment, pointing to the millions of views the video racked up on social media.” It’s awesome that there’s so many people that are still thirsty for that type of politics or these sorts of leadership ,” he said.

The incident, however, also hinted at the work that lies ahead.” The reality is that I’m in an uphill battle ,” he said.” I suppose I have to work extra hard to prove myself- and I’ve always had to do that, so I’m up for current challenges .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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