Deputy helped Alta. go orange
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.