Toronto Star

Singh turns whispering campaign into a powerful talking point

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

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Is an aging political movement with an outdated fealty to ideology ready to change with the times by embracing a new generation of social democratic fighter?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

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 ?? VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR ?? NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh met with the Toronto Star editorial board to discuss his platform and campaign.
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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