It was already big news when Jagmeet Singh, who represents Brampton in the Ontario Legislature, launched his campaign months ago to become the next leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP). When he first launched, the notion that a turban wearing, Sikh man could become a leader of a major political party in Canada was, sadly, met with some skepticism.
Something like that had never been done before in Canadian history. But defying traditional political convention, Jagmeet Singh has achieved what was previously impossible: become the new NDP leader this past Sunday.
Singh was elected with 54 per cent of the vote, winning the leadership on the first ballot, beating back his challengers Guy Caron, Niki Ashton and Charlie Angus (all currently elected MPs; Singh himself does not have a seat in Parliament). The other three of them got less than 20 per cent of the vote each.
Most political pundits were expecting a long, drawn out contest, as the NDP uses a ranked balloting system to elect its leaders. A ranked balloting system means that the eventual winner had to secure more than 50 per cent of the vote, and if the first place person had less than that amount, numerous rounds would have continued with the last place candidate dropping off, and his or her second choice transferred accordingly.
We saw this happen during the Conservative leadership contest earlier this year, with the eventual winner, Andrew Scheer, eke-ing out 51 per cent on the 13th ballot. The fact that Singh’s team managed to achieve a first ballot victory speaks volumes about their “Get Out the Vote” operations. For those political history buffs out there, he won with essentially the same amount of votes that Jack Layton won with, also on the first ballot, when the late former NDP leader won the party’s top job in 2003.
In his victory speech, Singh spoke of the issues that focused on at his launch in Brampton; social justice, the environment, and the economy. If he becomes Prime Minister, Singh pledges to ban the practice of street checks across Canada, and making sure that people get actual work that is not precarious, making a jab at the current prime minister (“If you are used to employment as a hobby, perhaps you would be used to precarious work”).
While Singh has expressed intentions to seek a parliamentary seat in Brampton in 2019, there was no indication that getting into Parliament was a top priority, preferring to go out and rebuild the party (the NDP is currently a few million dollars in debt, so having a leader fundraising outside the Ottawa bubble isn’t a bad idea). Being on the outside of the Hill may also be beneficial as Singh can address one particular elephant in the room–that Quebecers are skeptical about electing a political leader that displays his religion so openly.
Time will tell if Singh can address that issue, as well as many others, since he is literally the first non-white person to lead a political party in Canada. The incumbent Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, should be a little nervous about someone who can, for lack of a better term, “out-GQ” him in the media and society pages.
As we have previously document, Singh is somewhat of a media darling, or at least knows his way around a microphone or television camera. Most recently, he made national news when he graciously handled a racist heckler at a campaign event.
Congratulations go to Jagmeet Singh, the first Sikh Canadian and the first Bramptonian to take the leadership of any political party in Canada.
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