10 Things That Excite Me About @thejagmeetsingh Winning #ndpldr (and 5 That Make Me Nervous)

If everything Jagmeet Singh’s team said about how many new members they’d signed up, how much support they were getting in vote rich Ontario and BC, how young people were rallying around their candidate, and their fundraising totals, turned out to be true, it seemed like Jagmeet Singh would have a really good chance at winning the NDP leadership when results were announced today.

And if that was the case, the question then became whether it would be a first ballot upset or stretch out to multiple rounds (and possibly open up an opportunity for a lower ranking contender to come from behind – sort of like Andrew Scheer did against Maxime Bernier in the Conservative leadership race.)

But today, with 54% of the vote, Jagmeet Singh was chosen, became only the eighth leader of the NDP since 1961 (not counting Nicole Turmel who served as interim leader after the untimely passing of Jack Layton.)

It was a solid victory and augurs well for his future prospects as the only two previous leaders who won on the first ballot – Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton – were also the two longest served (and most revered) leaders of the party.

There are quite a few reasons I’m excited about Jagmeet Singh becoming leader of the Federal NDP…

  1. With the victory of 38 year old Singh, the generational torch has officially been passed as none of the three main parties in Canada now have a baby boomer leading them – recently elected Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, is also 38 while Justin Trudeau, regularly celebrated for his youthful selfie-loving style, is actually the old man of the group at 45.
  2. When I attended one of Singh’s events in Regina, he pointed out that if you count the two main Chinese languages (Cantonese and Mandarin) separately, he actually speaks not just two of Canada’s most widely spoken languages but also its third – Punjabi.
  3. Known for his colourful turbans, three piece suits and GQ cover stories, Jagmeet is very charismatic and stylish.  He’s obviously intelligent and, as displayed in the infamous video of him being accosted by a racist during a rally, he’s a pretty cool customer in other ways too.
  4. He brings an authenticity to his role as the leader of Canada’s most left-wing party, whether talking about his real-life experiences being profiled by police because of his skin colour or his experiences supporting his family as a young man when his parents went through a tough time or his experiences as a minority in all kinds of other ways.
  5. The NDP has already had two previous female leaders (three if you count Turmel) but the election of Singh breaks another barrier in Canadian politics as he’s the first person of colour to lead any of our political parties.
  6. On a related note, as with the rise of Barack Obama, the election of Jagmeet Singh sends a strong message to Canadians who are in minority groups (or those who like the Canada that raising up minority groups help create!) that our leaders are a true reflection of the country they serve and the country many of us think Canada aspires to be.  And with 1 in 5 Canadians belonging to minority groups (with that number growing), it positions the NDP well to capitalize on demographic shifts towards a younger, more international, more urban voter.
  7. I knew he’d studied law at Osgoode Hall at the U of T but it was only during his talk in Regina that I learned he’d done his undergrad at Western making him and I fellow alums! 😉
  8. More importantly, he studied biology as an undergrad and says that gives him an appreciation for the scientific method and evidence-based practice.
  9. This is more personal but Jagmeet Singh might be the first time I’ve supported somebody who actually won a political race in at least a decade and probably longer – not one of my picks for city councillor or mayor during that period, not my local provincial MLA since the Sask Party wave started in 2007, not the person I’ve supported in the last two provincial NDP leadership races, not my local MP (again, Mr. Scheer makes an appearance!)  Hell, Shea and I have also lived for extended periods in both Calgary and London, Ontario and through various elections in those communities, I don’t think I managed to vote for a winner in any of those either! 🙂
  10. I mentioned this in my post where I announced that Jagmeet Singh would be my first choice but I’m also a bit…giddy isn’t the right word but that’s definitely part of it…to see how the old racists – both overt and more silent – both from other parties but even those who should be his supporters, react to having a guy with brown skin who wears a turban, a kirpan and who regularly is assumed to be Muslim leading one of our national political parties.  This ties back into point number one – the emergence of the Millennial generation (they’ll finally be a bigger voting block than the Boomers in the next election) and how their values of tolerance, inclusion and global consciousness are replacing a generation that regularly tried to force Sikh men to cut their hair to get jobs or got pissed off when they wore turbans while doing their jobs or that often looks at “the other” as something to be suspicious of rather than excited about.

There are also a few reasons I’m worried about how his leadership might go…

  1. There was a lot of ink spilled (probably more than any other topic involving Singh) about the fact that Quebec is a (supposedly) secular society and does not stand for religious symbols, especially in the government (Jagmeet has rightly pointed out that Quebec doesn’t seem to object to having a big cross in their provincial legislature and it’s only *certain* religious symbols that seem to bother them.  But with the NDP’s niqab controversy from the last election still a fresh wound, the worry is that Singh won’t be able to make inroads in Quebec like native born sons like Jack Layton or Thomas Mulcair.  (Of course Mulcair, whatever his other strengths, didn’t end up doing too shit hot in Quebec during the last election and in my mind, there’s an equally likely chance that the most progressive party will do just fine in our most progressive province when we have a leader who speaks of knowing what it to be a minority oppressed by the majority and who says he learned French to show solidarity with the people of Quebec.)
  2. As an atheist, I come at the same issue from a slightly different angle.  I can understand it in people’s personal lives but I’m never a fan of anyone, especially in government, who’s overtly religious.  I also think there’s an ongoing missed opportunity to reach out to atheists in general – we’re maybe not a block of voters like other demographic groups – but we could be appealed to, for example if Singh focused more on his science background which isn’t as well known as some of his other biographical details.
  3. Some are worried that, just as the NDP elected Thomas Mulcair because he was seen as the best person to build on the gains of Jack Layton in Quebec, we’ve picked Jagmeet Singh to “fight the last election” where we were beaten on the outside by a young, charismatic GQ cover boy who played the progressive card more than the NDP did.
  4. Many are worried that Jagmeet Singh isn’t an elected MP but that didn’t seem to be an issue for Jack Layton when he was chosen leader (didn’t realise but Alexa McDonough wasn’t an MP when chosen as leader either) and this one actually worries me not at all.  In fact, I’m quite excited about the party building Singh might be able to do before the next federal election!
  5. I spoke about how I like that the election of Jagmeet Singh is like a poke in the eye of the racists of the country.  But it could also get ugly – far right wingers will put out dog whistles (and, in the age of Trump, are more likely to just blurt out) that Singh’s election is some sort of nefarious plot for brown people to take over the country rather than realising that it is the natural, ongoing evolution of what is already happening as our society becomes more inclusive, diverse and integrated.
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