What can be learnt from federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh

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Pradip Rodrigues

When NDPs Jagmeet Singh was in the process of considering a run for the federal NDP leadership race in 2017, he admitted being on the horns of a dilemma, he could see that provincial NDPs had one of their first real shot at winning power in Ontario and needless to say he would be playing a really important role in Canada’s largest province.

Until Jagmeet Singh became leader of the federal NDP, he was lionized in millennial circles. He was a bit of a rock star politician who had under his belt accomplishments ranging from Sikh of the Year, jiu-jitsu champion and Toronto Life magazine’s Best Dressed award. In addition, he appeared on the cover of several US magazines. Millions of Canadians were elated by the possibility of Canada having its first visible minority Sikh Prime Minister, much the same way America was once enthralled by former US President Barack Obama.

But today the headlines are markedly different. Last week the NDP released a survey asking supporters to rate Jagmeet Singh in first year as party leader. His support has dropped and there are rumblings of discontent over his lacklustre leadership. It comes at a particularly bad time for the beleaguered leader who is hoping to run in for a by-election in Burnaby-South which isn’t as safe as his home turf Brampton.

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The NDP’s annual budget had plummeted from $18 million in 2015 to just $6 million last year. The NDP had hoped that he would draw record financial support for the party.

His leadership is being challenged on many fronts. There was a hope that given the federal NDP was helmed by Singh, the party would make major inroads into multicultural communities from coast to coast and that would be the ticket to eventual power in Ottawa. And yet today political pundits are wondering aloud how long it would be before the NDP dumps Singh as leader. If he loses the by-election in Burnaby South, it is clear there will be a mutiny leading to Singh losing his position. Otherwise it is clear that the NDP will be looking for a new leader after the 2019 federal elections.

A recent Nanos Research survey showed federal NDP support at less than 16 per cent, well behind the Liberals and Conservatives, and down from 20 per cent in late 2017.

This week the Federal NDP MPs held a three-day strategy session in B.C ahead of the return of Parliament this fall.

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For federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, hearing the word FALL must be terrifying. Not-so-long-ago, he could safely assume glossy magazines would chase him down for a Fall fashion photoshoot. Now of course, reporters are likely chasing him with questions relating to his falling support.

Many observers have pointed to the fact that Jagmeet Singh prior to his federal NDP run was a virtual unknown outside of the GTA and a few South Asian enclaves in BC and Alberta. Mainstream Canada knew little or nothing about Singh other than the fact he was a visible minority.

And if this is the fate of such a telegenic and eloquent in English, French and Punjabi, it is depressingly clear that the current crop of South Asian MPs and MPPs across Canada don’t have a chance in hell to play a really important role in Canadian politics. Because clearly it isn’t enough just to speak and dress well to be successful in Canadian politics.

Despite PM Justin Trudeau elevating a record number of South Asian MPs into cabinet positions, not a single one of them has made a real impact. Even the new Minister of Natural Resources Amarjit Sohi, now in the spotlight because of the Kinder-Morgan oil pipeline issue has failed to make a real impact on the current debate. Very few Liberal MPs would want to be in his position right now as it could well be a career killer. Perhaps that is why he was given such an important file at a crucial time.

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In Ontario there are a record ten MPPs of South Asian descent. You will hear very little about them at all because all political parties hold them on a tight leash. For all practical purposes they are treated by the parties as community leaders who are given the spotlight only when the party bosses need them to boast about some spending initiatives in their riding or something that affects the community. And these MPs and MPPs are quite happy to go along with this status quo. Most of them are destined never to go very far in politics and they will never be embraced by mainstream Canada not because Canadians are racist but these community leaders masquerading as politicians cannot transition beyond their base.

Perhaps the dozens of South Asian aspiring politicians could all learn from trailblazer NDP federal leader Jagmeet Singh’s political journey and make changes accordingly. -CINEWS

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