Former criminal lawyer, human rights activist and now leader of Canada’s New Democrat Party, Jagmeet Singh brings forth a powerhouse of energy as the first minority-based leader of the third largest party in Canada.
Canada prides itself on sentiments of diversity, acceptance and multiculturalism. Be it in the arts, business sphere or political landscape, strong leaders continue to emerge from various backgrounds and skillsets. Former criminal lawyer, human rights activist and now leader of Canada’s New Democrat Party, (NDP) Jagmeet Singh, brings forth a powerhouse of energy as the first minority-based leader of the third largest party in Canada, truly reflecting how times have changed. When asked of his initial reaction to becoming the NDP leader, Singh describes the experience as incredible and expresses his gratitude and humbleness, having gained the trust of Burnaby South’s people.
Singh recalls having fallen in love with the Lower Mainland upon his first visit during a trip while attending Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Coincidentally, his first political tour after marriage was also in Vancouver, and his wife, Toronto-based designer, Gurkiran Kaur, immediately fell in love with the city. “We moved 4,500 kilometers, so it’s a pretty profound thing,” describes Singh, thanking his family for pouring their heart out into campaigning and door-knocking. Undoubtedly, the opportunity has been a life-changing one.
As the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in the legislature of Ontario, Singh continues to uphold a vision to build a better Canada with love and courage. After becoming the face of the campaign, he does recognize that every step in the journey is a huge responsibility, “When I was younger, I could have never imagined that someone who looked like me could become the Prime Minister. I knew it would be a big challenge, but there was never a hesitation because there is a need.” Singh brings up the need to put pressure on the government and importance of placing emphasis on the right priorities.
He outlines three issues that are not only at the forefront of his campaign, but also central values to himself personally:
Housing Singh has seen this issue come up all over the nation in different forms; some provinces lack availability, while some provinces have prohibitively expensive options. He defines that as a massive crisis, affecting people of all demographics, income levels and circumstances. Singh proposes, “I want us to build cooperative, non-market, affordable units, which have now stopped at the federal level.”
Health Care After providing coverage for millions of Canadians that do not currently have it, Singh wishes to expand health care into a fully comprehensive package and fill the gaps, covering areas such as dental care and eye care. “When we have millions of people who can’t get medicines, things get severe, which is costlier and time consuming. People who could have managed their illness are not able to afford it. When conditions get extreme, it becomes hard on the health care system and results in longer wait times for the public,” explains Singh. He plans to bring back the currently reduced funding on health care to deliver solid service.
Environment Singh dreams of transforming Canada into a green economy that benefits more people, asserting that wealth today is concentrated into less hands. A greener economy results in more people benefitting with increased opportunity, much like the digital disruption that was brought about by the Internet revolution. Singh claims, “I reject the notion that it is either jobs or the environment. We can create an economy that creates jobs and fulfills the mission.”
Singh pinpoints the challenge of showing people that there is a better way. People often get caught up in a two-cycled choice between the Status-Quo of the Liberals and the Conservatives, who have an on-your-own approach; it is vital to communicate the existence of a third possibility – a party that is willing to tackle the tough issues. When asked about the historically tough-to-win business community, Singh maintains that he fundamentally believes in a stark difference between small, medium and big corporations.
In his view, smaller businesses should flourish and reduce red tape, which he has ideas for. At the same time, large corporations should be contributing their fair share to ensure that the business community thrives overall. When asked of his opinion on polls where the NDP seems to be lagging, he clearly responds, “The only poll that really matters is the one on election day.” On another note, Singh communicates that he is not worried at all about the exits of relatively incumbent NDP leaders, but is excited by the entry of new minds into the party. Rather, he positions that the Liberals have more of a problem, with ministers resigning because they are questioning the competency of the Liberal government. Speaking on the related issue of the SNC Lavalin scandal, Singh states, “One of the things we saw when the PM got elected is, ‘We are going to give him a chance. He should be better than Harper, so there is hope.’ However, the allegations have shown that the PM and PM office is more concerned about helping a powerful friend rather than Canadians, raising the question of whose side are they on.” Singh voices that the government is more interested in saving their own skin and own jobs rather than focusing on what people need.
As the youngest party leader in Canada, Singh feels proud to be tackling issues that Canadians care about. For him, his age is an advantage as it gives him the opportunity to connect with millennials and better understand issues such as student debt, housing and employment. That said, Singh understands that words must be turned into action, “We can propose things that get people excited, but it is a challenge getting them motivated enough to vote. As a country, we need to encourage people to vote.” However, Singh has utmost confidence in his team, leadership capabilities, and campaigning, as portrayed in the Burnaby South byelection victory.
Having travelled from coast to coast, Singh recalls having seen both distinctly different communities with unique challenges and as well as those with comparable ones. His travels serve as a catalyst of encouragement for Singh, as he shares his excitement on all that the country can build together, “People across Canada are far more similar than they are different. We want to take care of each other, which gives hope that we can do good. As the second largest country in the world, you can see how immense this is. We lift each other.”
Photos: Courtesy of Jagmeet Singh, Canada's NDP/Flickr