The viral sensation
‘We want a country that really welcomes everyone’
For someone running to be the leader of any political party, let’s say in the western world, a message of support from the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. has to be campaign gold.
And so there was no way Jagmeet Singh could have let such a message, from Bernice King, pass unacknowledged on Twitter this week.
“I don’t have the words to express the impact your father has had on the world. Thank you for your work in continuing his powerful legacy,” he wrote to the daughter of the civil rights icon.
King had shared a video of Singh at a recent campaign event. It shows an incident that has been discussed, praised and critiqued on a massive scale — millions of people have watched it online.
The video shows Singh, a practising Sikh who wears a turban and has a long beard, being confronted by a seemingly irate woman as he’s speaking to a room of supporters. He stands calmly as she shrieks in his face about “Shariah” and “the Muslim Brotherhood.” Singh’s response: to offer his support. “We love you. We support you,” he told the woman, who carried on screaming as the assembled crowd clapped and she left the room.
Days later, he explained that although he is not Muslim, he felt it was better not to correct the heckler. “While I’m proud of who I am,” he said in a statement, “I didn’t answer the question because my response to Islamophobia has never been ‘I’m not Muslim.’ It has always been and will be ‘hate is wrong.’ ”
Ian Capstick, a political strategist who was an NDP staffer for several years, said the incident said a lot about Singh as a potential party leader.
“He won’t be daunted,” Capstick said. “That is an incredibly powerful message for them to put forward. It was very indicative to NDP members, who watch these things closely, that this is a leader who leads with love and kindness.”
There was hype building around Singh before he even entered the race. When he finally did, in May, he did so before a raucous crowd in Brampton, the suburban GTA city where he’s held a seat for the Ontario NDP since 2011.
Since then, the former criminal lawyer, who is not married, has gained a following for his push to protect temp workers in Ontario, and he went on to be named deputy leader of the provincial party — a position he relinquished to run for the federal leadership.
Part of his image is also sartorial — he once landed in the pages of GQ, which lauded his flashy custom-made suits. Singh is also prolific on social media, where he employs a loose-talking and affable persona that is youth-oriented.
This week, for example, while campaigning in B.C., he posted a video of himself on Instagram at a vegetarian restaurant. “I’m looking forward to gulping it all up — nom, nom nom!” he said, miming how he will shovel it down.
That’s not to say he’s not serious about politics. Singh’s raison d’être in the campaign is that he has the charisma and policy chops to expand the party to bring in younger voters and break through into communities, such as in the suburban GTA where he holds his Ontario seat, that it has never courted before.
“We’ve used social media in a unique and interesting way,” he told the Star when he entered the race. “We’ve put forward content that’s interesting, that’s fun, but that’s also packed with substance and ideas and values.”
To win the leadership, he said, “We’ll use the strategies we’ve already used, but use them on a larger scale.”