Singh turns whis­per­ing cam­paign into a pow­er­ful talk­ing point

NDP lead­er­ship hope­ful said he is com­mit­ted to build­ing na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Martin Regg Cohn

New Democrats have a de­ci­sion to make about so­cial democ­racy.

As they be­gin vot­ing Mon­day for their next fed­eral leader, will they have the “love and courage” to choose a mixed mar­tial arts fighter from Bramp­ton — a politi­cian who re­lies on ju­jitsu slo­ga­neer­ing in­stead of slag­ging his op­po­nents?

Or are they too leery of what Jag­meet Singh rep­re­sents — wary of what the elec­torate at large will think — to em­brace him as an up­graded, up­dated, un­con­ven­tional so­cial demo­crat?

In the home-stretch, Singh has fi­nally emerged as the favourite to fin­ish first — if only New Democrats would stop sec­ond-guess­ing them­selves about his suit­abil­ity, electabil­ity and winnabil­ity.

Com­ing out on top hasn’t come eas­ily for the rookie can­di­date who so hand­ily out-hus­tled, out-mus­cled, out-mon­eyed and out­shone his fed­eral ri­vals in the public eye. The fi­nal vote — stag­gered over the next few weeks — will say as much about the state of the party as it does the coun­try.

Is an ag­ing po­lit­i­cal move­ment with an out­dated fealty to ide­ol­ogy ready to change with the times by em­brac­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of so­cial demo­cratic fighter?

Singh doesn’t just look dif­fer­ent. He sounds dif­fer­ent.

Never mind that he would be first party leader to wear a tur­ban — at­tire he couldn’t even wear to work in Que­bec if that prov­ince en­acts its no­to­ri­ous leg­is­la­tion bar­ring public ser­vants from wear­ing re­li­gious sym­bols.

In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties must have a veto over en­ergy projects pro­posed on their ter­ri­tory for Canada to push for­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, NDP lead­er­ship can­di­date Jag­meet Singh says.

“If it is truly a na­tion-to-na­tion re­la­tion­ship, then we can’t have projects on the land of another na­tion with­out that na­tion’s con­sent,” Singh told the Star’s ed­i­to­rial board dur­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view Fri­day.

En­ergy projects, such as pipelines, would be con­sid­ered, said Singh, the cur­rent MPP for Bra­malea-Gore-Mal­ton, if two other con­di­tions are also met: if the project com­plies with the party’s cli­mate change tar­gets and if it cre­ates lo­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties and jobs as op­posed to strictly ex­port­ing ma­te­rial.

Singh op­poses all the cur­rently pro­posed pipe­line projects, in­clud­ing Kinder Mor­gan, En­ergy East and Key­stone XL.

“It’s pretty fun­da­men­tal; there re- ally isn’t any way around that. It’s a fun­da­men­tal and real step to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

Singh said his pro­gres­sive plat­form and per­sonal charisma, fused with tra­di­tional NDP val­ues and his own unique ex­pe­ri­ences fight­ing for work­ers’ rights and racial jus­tice on a pro­vin­cial level, will in­spire peo­ple to get in­volved in pol­i­tics, join the party and vote NDP.

“We made a case that I was go­ing to grow the party and in­spire peo­ple, and our team did ex­actly that,” Singh said. “I ran to win, and we are run­ning a cam­paign to win. And so my only plan is I’ll be the fed­eral leader, and I’ll be run­ning in a fed­eral seat.”

Along with pre­vi­ous NDP prom­ises for na­tional phar­ma­care and uni­ver­sal day­care, he is ad­vo­cat­ing for higher taxes on wealthy Cana­di­ans, the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of petty drug pos­ses­sion, a ba­sic in­come for se­niors and Cana­di­ans with dis­abil­i­ties, end­ing un­paid in­tern­ships, fed­er­ally im­pos­ing a $15 min­i­mum wage, as well as a num­ber of poli­cies geared to­ward LGBTQ rights.

The lead­er­ship can­di­date said the NDP’s down­fall dur­ing the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion was the re­sult of a miss-

“There is no ques­tion that we need to have power to in­flu­ence change, but that power can never come at the cost of prin­ci­ples.” JAG­MEET SINGH ON THE NDP’S FALL IN THE 2015 FED­ERAL ELEC­TION

ing emo­tional con­nec­tion between the cam­paign and Cana­di­ans, as well as a lack of au­then­tic­ity and a prom­ise to bal­ance the bud­get, which is tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with the pro­mo­tion of cuts and aus­ter­ity.

“There is no ques­tion that we need to have power to in­flu­ence change, but that power can never come at the cost of prin­ci­ples,” Singh said. “There is ab­so­lutely a way to pur­sue both your prin­ci­ples and the pur­suit of power.”

Along with look­ing at in­ter­gen­er­a­tional wealth, Singh promised to make the wealthy pay more taxes and to sup­port the most vul­ner­a­ble Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing se­niors liv­ing in poverty, the work­ing poor and peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties.

Singh said that his team has signed up the most mem­bers than any other can­di­date in Que­bec.

“We are go­ing to reach out to peo­ple who never con­sid­ered vot­ing for NDP be­fore and we will in­spire them to vote for us,” he said. “We are go­ing to grow in Que­bec.”

With a plat­form fo­cus­ing on “love and courage,” Singh, 38, re­ceived in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for his com­posed and calm re­sponse to an an­gry heck­ler shout­ing racist re­marks at him dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion with long­time sup­port­ers in Bramp­ton last week.

On Fri­day, he told the Star’s ed­i­to­rial board that his re­sponse to the heck­ler may have been mis­con­strued by the public.

Re­spond­ing with calm and love, he said, is one of the many coura­geous ways to re­spond to racism and big­otry, adding that those who had stood in the heck­ler’s way and others who called out the racism di­rectly were also im­por­tant re­sponses. “Love and courage means many things. I chose one way, but it’s not the only way,” he said.

VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR

NDP lead­er­ship can­di­date Jag­meet Singh met with the Toronto Star ed­i­to­rial board to dis­cuss his plat­form and cam­paign.

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