Singh’s style and sub­stance

Mem­ber of pro­vin­cial par­lia­ment Jag­meet Singh is ahead in the New Demo­cratic Party fed­eral lead­er­ship race and he hasn’t even de­clared his can­di­dacy. Could the GQ-ap­pear­ing, mixed mar­tial arts–lov­ing and pro­gres­sive politi­cian mount a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to

Bayview Post - - News - by Ron John­son

Queen’s Park voted unan­i­mously on the Is­lam­o­pho­bia mo­tion last month. What does that mean to you?

I think it’s a pow­er­ful mes­sage when all par­ties come to­gether on some­thing that would seem to be very ob­vi­ous, but some­times it’s not as ob­vi­ous. It’s a great hon­our to see all par­ties come to­gether and clearly de­nounce hate of any form. You need to name in­jus­tice if you want to ad­dress it. We’ve named Is­lam­o­pho­bia as a prob­lem, and we are com­mit­ted to work­ing against it.

When was the last time you took to the streets to protest?

I took to the streets a cou­ple of weeks ago for the com­mu­nity protest with re­spect to the Mus­lim ban [pro­posed by the U.S. pres­i­dent] along with a thou­sand peo­ple on Univer­sity Av­enue. I still go to protests all the time. In my heart of hearts, I’m still an ac­tivist. I love the en­ergy when peo­ple come to­gether over their con­cerns or to show sol­i­dar­ity. The power and en­ergy is a beau­ti­ful part of democ­racy.

Tell me about your fash­ion sense. When did you be­come such a clothes horse?

It’s a cool thing for me. I re­spect that there is some artistry. I’m not some­one who fol­lows de­tails about which cloth­ing house is do­ing what. I’m not re­ally into it that much. But I do get that fash­ion is a way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. I use it more as a tool. For one, I re­al­ized that I have a cer­tain ap­pear­ance and that of­ten evokes a stereo­typ­i­cal re­sponse, which is some­times nega­tive. My goal orig­i­nally was to dis­arm peo­ple. And two, I found that a sharp suit gives you con­fi­dence and says you are some­one who has some value and sub­stance. Again, it got peo­ple think­ing be­yond stereo­types and helped me con­vey my mes­sage and al­lowed me to talk about in­come in­equal­ity or sys­tem­atic racism that peo­ple face.

You have some se­ri­ously colourful tur­bans. How many do you have?

My go-to ar­ray of colours is close to 10 that I reg­u­larly ro­tate — reds, greens, blues, pur­ples. And I have oth­ers I’ve yet to break out or that are more rarely used, and that would get up into the 20s.

And I hear you are a mixed mar­tial arts guy. When did that start?

I started off as a kid, be­cause I was picked on a lot, and my par­ents thought if it was go­ing to keep hap­pen­ing I should learn to de­fend my­self. It’s great be­cause it teaches you re­ally to not go out and fight, to have the con­fi­dence to walk away.

You’ve had some suc­cess com­pet­ing.

When I moved to Toronto, I trained in earnest and com­peted a lot when I was there. I did a bunch of tour­neys in sub­mis­sion grap­pling, which is like UFC, mi­nus the strik­ing. I won a bunch of them over a pe­riod of about four years, and I was un­de­feated in my weight class. The old school folks still re­mem­ber me as a strong grap­pler.

Might set you up nicely to bat­tle our box­ing prime min­is­ter?

My box­ing is strong. I’ve been trained in MMA by top­notch guys and did some good box­ing, a lot of kick-box­ing. My hands are good, fast and strong. I can strike. I can grap­ple.

That begs the ques­tion of your po­ten­tial run at the NDP fed­eral lead­er­ship. What’s the holdup?

Well, here is my dilemma.The NDP has a phe­nom­e­nal op­por­tu­nity, maybe the best in two decades, for the gov­ern­ment in On­tario. The Lib­eral party has gen­uinely lost a lot of ap­proval even in down­town Toronto where Kathleen Wynne is strong­est. They are re­al­iz­ing she is not who they thought she was. The sell-off of Hy­dro One is re­ally hit­ting peo­ple who are won­der­ing why pri­va­tize? That’s a Con­ser­va­tive party idea. So peo­ple are look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive. So we have this great op­por­tu­nity to form gov­ern­ment, and I am a bit torn be­cause of that.

You seem to be lead­ing in the race with­out even declar­ing yet. That’s a good sign.

If noth­ing else, it’s a very hum­bling sign. In pol­i­tics, you never know if you can keep the mo­men­tum for­ever. I’m en­joy­ing this mo­ment.

When are you most happy?

Su­per­fi­cially, on a sunny day rid­ing my bike. But on a deeper level, I get re­ally touched when young peo­ple come up and tell me how I’ve in­spired them. That’s what makes my day.

Which tal­ent would you most like?

To sing, man. If I could sing, I would sing ev­ery­where and be in karaoke bars all the time. Likely, for that rea­son, I am not able to sing.

What is your most trea­sured pos­ses­sion?

Prob­a­bly one of my favourite things is my fold-up bi­cy­cle, a Bromp­ton, that I’ve trav­elled with through amaz­ing and cool places around the world. I know it’s ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, but it is su­per awe­some.

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