True, Jagmeet Singh cut his political teeth in Toronto. It’s where he practised law, defined his priorities and won election to the Ontario legislature. Those factors all contributed to his impressive first-ballot victory over three better-known candidates last weekend.
But Singh has roots in Atlantic Canada. He spent five early years in St. John’s, where his father attended Memorial University’s medical school. Last summer, Singh returned to Newfoundland and Labrador with his brother and a friend to revisit his childhood.
He is also a politician of many firsts — the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit as a provincial legislator in Ontario, to hold a deputy leader position and to lead a major federal party in Canada.
He is fluent in English, French and Punjabi.
Singh’s decisive leadership victory continues the process of breaking down barriers and making Canada a more inclusive country. Singh’s parents were born in India and came here as refugees to contribute to a strong, caring nation.
Singh espouses a robust social agenda. He supports electoral reform, universal daycare, national pharmacare and a progressive tax system. He wants to raise the minimum wage, supports measures to mitigate climate change and wants to decriminalize personal possession of all drugs.
It’s worth noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who capitalized on his youth to attract younger voters in 2015, is now the oldest major party leader, at 45. Both Singh and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer are 38.
One issue that might cause Singh trouble in this region is the party’s commitment to the Leap Manifesto, which advocates a swift end to the use of fossil fuels, including a moratorium on new infrastructure projects such as pipelines. It caused a rift last year with the NDP’s Alberta wing, which Singh must try and heal.
Some might also question his plan not to contest a seat before the next election; a national leader might find it difficult outside the rails.
But Singh is also a pragmatist, who has said, “I firmly believe that you have to be in a position of power to influence change…”
Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair tried that approach in 2015, then switched to a more moderate, centrist platform to widen the party’s appeal, and it backfired. How will Singh succeed where Mulcair failed?
But the main challenge facing Singh might well be a ticking clock
He doesn’t have tons of time to win over Canadians before fall 2019. Particularly since the latest Corporate Research Associates poll shows Atlantic Canada firmly behind Trudeau’s Liberals. The Conservatives and the NDP lag far behind.
Andrew Scheer failed to capitalize on his leadership bump in popularity from May.
Singh has even bigger odds to overcome.