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
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.