Jagmeet Singh - The NDP's hope for a chance to form a federal government.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

October 6, 2017



I’ve heard it said that Tom Mulcair would have won the last federal election if only he’d shaved his beard. But I guess the NDP rank and file missed that barb, since they have just chosen a new leader with an even more impressive facial mane.

Singh - audience

Singh organized his community and brought in far more new members than any other leadership candidate. Now to see what he has in the way policy ideas.

Jagmeet Singh won the federal NDP leadership on the first ballot. And of course he did! He had signed up over a third of the NDP membership and most of the others didn’t even bother to vote. Who can blame them? Of all of their previous leaders only Layton gave the membership hope of winning the top prize. And after the last election they are back to where they started.

Singh - red turban

The Minister of Defence wears a turban – not as colourful but something we have accepted in most parts of the country.

So the old NDP was ripe for a change, needed to do and be something different. And no candidate less represented the good old losing days than the 38 year old lawyer and MPP from Brampton. There was a buzz about this articulate young snappy dresser, even with that colourful turban he dons, which unfortunately reminds one of the TV cartoon character Marge Simpson.

He had the numbers and ran a winning campaign, at least within the confines of the NDP. The old guard in the party either gave up or went along for the ride, tired and hopeless, after the unexpected whopping they experienced at the polls last time around. And with a new leader and so many new members, almost a tripling of the membership, this is truly a ‘New’ Democratic Party.

Yet despite all the buzz about this new whiz kid they’ve chosen to follow, he hardly seems ready for the job of PM. For one thing he is reluctant to sit in the House of Commons, at least until the next federal election in 2019. That would make him a bit of a ‘pig-in-a-poke’ come the time to cast our ballots. You’d think Singh, himself a master of martial arts, would be itching to step into the ring, to flex his muscles and to take on the current knock-out champ?

Singh - blue turban

Jagmeet Singh is colourfull both in dress and character and very intense.

Perhaps the real reason is that his policy envelope is nearly empty when it comes to anything but social policy – immigration and racial equality in particular. Of course that is his background, as a defence lawyer and MPP, where his main claim was pushing the Wynne government to end the practice of police racial carding.

His religion obviously plays a big part in his life given how he dresses and what he fights for. For example, he advocated for Sikh motor cyclists wanting to be exempted from wearing helmets, because they didn’t want to remove their turbans. Was Singh placing his religious preference over public safety?

Sikhs make up less than 2% of Canada’s population though they have proven to be a powerful political force in their own right. How else would one explain how their children are allowed to bring ceremonial daggers to school with them, or how they alone among recruits can override the RCMP dress code? It is a religion of peace, but then aren’t they all?

Some will want to draw comparisons between Singh and Obama, another leader of a major political party, representing a visible minority and campaigning to deliver social equity. A key difference is that with Obama, faith was between him and his maker, but Singh’s is conspicuous. That can be both a strength and a shortcoming.

Already there are concerns about how he will be received by the average voter in Quebec, and whether he will be able to ever win back all those Jack Layton voters who went to Justin. Quebecers generally disapprove of the blatant display of religiosity, be it by Muslim, Hassidic Jew, or even by the more traditional Catholics. And without Quebec how can he ever hope to form the government in Ottawa?

Perhaps that is how it was meant to be. For in the history of Canadian politics the NDP has always been that bridesmaid, not the bride, the king’s advisor but never the king. The social democratic movement’s greatest gift was when the CCF pioneered single payer health care, though they have also left their imprint in many other areas of public policy.

Still wherever the NDP has formed provincial governments, even in Ontario, they aspired towards mostly pragmatic and middle-of-the-road policies, much like the Liberal governments they sometimes replaced. And that is the problem. There is already a progressive Liberal party – why does Canada need two?

Nobody soft-shoed around socialism more than former NDP leader Mulcair, plunking himself in the middle between a rightish Harper and a leftish Trudeau. And he lost big time. Would his party’s showing have been any worse had he just stood up for what his party is supposed to represent?

Singh - yellow turban

Will the turban be something that Canadians take to?

Notwithstanding their new leader, the best the NDP can ever expect is to continue to be a third party, hopefully the party of Canada’s social conscience. Their dream of ever becoming the government was thrashed when they scuttled Trudeau’s plan for a preferential ballot, forcing him to entirely pull the plug on electoral reform.

With our first-past-the-post system now secured into the future, there will certainly be opportunities for third parties in the next minority government. And  that may come as soon as 2019. But it all will depend on just how well Mr. Singh plays his cards in the great game of Canadian politics.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995. He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject. Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

NDP Election –   More NDP –   Sikhs on Bikes –   Singh Bio

Police Carding –   Sikhism –   Trudeau’s Worst Nightmare

Singh Interview –    Leadership Race –     Quebec –    Absentee Leader

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8 comments to Jagmeet Singh – The NDP’s hope for a chance to form a federal government.

  • Gil

    “…which unfortunately reminds one of the TV cartoon character Marge Simpson.”

    Reminds one? How about we don’t disguise opinions behind generalized statements. What you really meant to say was “reminds me”. It’s a pretty ridiculous and ignorant comment to make in my opinion. I’ll leave it at that, but would expect better from the Gazette.

    Editor’s note: Our role is not to edit or attempt to control the words used by opinion writers.

    • Gil

      To Editor: Fair enough. As a reader, it comes across that the writer is representing The Gazette (rightly or wrongly). Perhaps Mr. Rivers can refrain from writing opinion pieces on topics until he’s a little more educated. There are several Gurdwaras in Halton including in Burlington where one can visit and learn a little more about the Sikh community.

  • Mr.Bean

    How did the NDP force Trudeau to pull the plug on electoral reform? Trudeau promised and was elected on this promise. Disgusting!

  • Just a note, Ray. The federal agency with which I spent my career had some Sikh employees. And, it was an ultra secure installation; weapons were not allowed except for certain personnel. The Sikhs wanted their daggers which we could not allow, but a compromise allowed them to carry plastic replicas.

  • steve

    Gee, Canada isn’t going down the tubes fast enough, I guess.

  • Fred Pritchard

    Yawn…. NDP? Who?

  • Walter Mulkewich

    This article by my friend Mr Rivers unfortunately is heavily biased and full of inaccuracies – I guess bias is opinion, but inaccuracies need to be edited. Comparing Mr Singh’s turban to a hairdo of a cartoon character does not represent the best in Canadian values, nor is it accurate. The NDP did not kill Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform, Trudeau has a majority, but he chose not to use it – Trudeau killed it. We may need another lunch, Ray.

  • Stephen White

    I wish we would finally start electing people to public office in this country who actually had some real-life depth of experience and expertise prior to running for public office. I’m getting tired of watching political politicians who are so green and inexperienced it is almost frightening.