Deputy helped Alta. go or­ange

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY JOANNA SMITH TORONTO STAR Joanna Smith is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

Jag­meet Singh says that un­til the or­ange wave hit Al­berta this spring, the only thing the South Asian com­mu­nity in Cal­gary knew about the NDP was that one of its politi­cians wore a tur­ban in the On­tario leg­is­la­ture.

"Brand recog­ni­tion was very low. The only way South Asians knew about the NDP was through me," says Singh, the On­tario NDP deputy leader and MPP for Bra­malea-Gore-Mal­ton, who will be the first to tell you that his rep­u­ta­tion ex­tends be­yond the bound­aries of his rid­ing.

Singh, a crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer elected to Queen's Park in 2011, was asked to head out west to help boost the pro­file of Ir­fan Sabir, who is now min­is­ter of hu­man ser­vices, in the rid­ing of Cal­gary-McCall dur­ing the spring elec­tion there.

Singh says he's look­ing for­ward to help­ing out his fed­eral cousins wher­ever he can dur­ing the fall elec­tion, too.

"I'm go­ing to try to have a pres­ence out­side the GTA, wher­ever I can go, wher­ever I can talk to folks that I can con­nect with," said Singh, whose or­ga­niz­ing and fundrais­ing ef­forts sur­round­ing a visit by fed­eral NDP Leader Thomas Mul­cair re­cently got him into trou­ble with the On­tario in­tegrity com­mis­sioner for us­ing his tax­payer-funded con­stituency of­fice for par­ti­san pur­poses.

Anne McGrath, na­tional cam­paign di­rec­tor for the NDP in the Oct. 19 fed­eral elec­tion, said Singh is a "key part" of their team and that she would be happy to have him help out.

"Out­reach to the eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties is go­ing to be a crit­i­cal part of what we are do­ing lead­ing up to the fall," said McGrath, adding the NDP is pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the Greater Toronto Area, the Is­land of Mon­treal and the Lower Main­land in B.C.

DJ Kohli is an or­ga­nizer with the On­tario NDP who worked on the Cal­gary-McCall cam­paign that ended up send­ing Sabir to the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture with nearly 30 per cent of the vote as one of the 53 NDP MLAs that formed a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment un­der Al­berta Premier Rachel Not­ley.

The rid­ing in the north­east part of Cal­gary is also in­cred­i­bly eth­ni­cally di­verse, with about 40 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion be­ing of South Asian ori­gin and Pun­jabi be­ing the sec­ond lan­guage, af­ter English, most of­ten spo­ken at home, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 Al­berta fi­nance depart­ment anal­y­sis of pro­vin­cial elec­toral dis­tricts us­ing Sta­tis­tics Canada data.

Kohli said Sabir, a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in abo­rig­i­nal law who grew up in Kash­mir, Pak­istan, had made great in­roads with the Kash­miri and wider Mus­lim com­mu­nity, and did not have as many cam­paign work­ers from the Sikh and wider South Asian com­mu­nity.

"Hon­estly speak­ing, Jag­meet made a huge, huge im­pact in our cam­paign ... Peo­ple meet him, peo­ple like him, peo­ple want to talk to him. Within the South Asian com­mu­nity, the big thing we did was make sure Jag­meet got to see as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble ... It was in­ter­est­ing, be­cause Rachel laid the first layer. Peo­ple rec­og­nized the NDP through Rachel and then Jag­meet came and he helped peo­ple feel more com­fort­able with our can­di­date, (Sabir)," Kohli said.

Cam­paign wis­dom from Jag­meet Singh: Be ev­ery­where.

In the few days Singh spent in Cal­gary dur­ing the pro­vin­cial elec­tion, he tried to be ev­ery­where. He did in­ter­views with South Asian com­mu­nity ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions, vis­ited the Gur­d­wara, which is where Sikhs go to wor­ship, met a field hockey team, which is a pop­u­lar sport in the South Asian com­mu­nity, and even guest taught a lec­ture on Gur­mukhi, a writ­ten form of the Pun­jabi lan­guage. Aim to help new­com­ers: Show­ing up is not enough, though, and that is where Singh be­lieves his party could have an ad­van­tage over the Con­ser­va­tives. "They show up a lot. I give them credit, but they don't have a lot of poli­cies that are re­ally help­ful to new Cana­di­ans," Singh ar­gued. Be your­self: Singh is a pop­u­lar politi­cian with a strong per­son­al­ity whose ap­peal reaches be­yond the On­tario NDP.

His faith, his crit­i­cism of In­dia for its treat­ment of mi­nori­ties, his ad­vo­cacy on the high-pro­file is­sue of po­lice carding and even his un­usu­ally hip fash­ion sense, proudly dis­played on his pop­u­lar In­sta­gram pro­file, have all helped him build re­la­tion­ships among young and South Asian vot­ers. Not only was he their "in" to that com­mu­nity, says NDP or­ga­nizer DJ Kohli, but his pres­ence helped peo­ple feel more com­fort­able sup­port­ing the lo­cal can­di­date, too.

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