Full disclosure: It’s not really that much of a surprise to me that Jagmeet Singh was elected leader of the New Democratic Party. Polling during the NDP’s leadership election seemed to indicate that his efforts to bring new voters to the party was pulling the title of “favourite” away from previous frontrunner Charlie Angus, and towards Singh. I was pretty sure that Angus was gonna win in the third round because Singh didn’t have a whole lot of second or third ballot support, but I could just as easily see Singh winning in the second or third. One thing was for sure: It probably wasn’t gonna end in the first ballot.
And then he did. Because I am clearly not a pollster or a mathematician, and why should my uninformed opinion mean anything?
What I clearly did NOT accurately predict was how much first-ballot support Singh would have. Because, to put it in layman’s terms, he had a metric shit-ton. 53.8% of voters had Singh as their first choice. That is over 30% more than Angus’ total (19.4%), to say nothing of Niki Ashton (17.4%) or Guy Caron (9.4%). That goes beyond a landslide: It’s straight-up decimation.
But enough sober reflection and reconsideration of my abilities as a political commentator. Just what does Jagmeet Singh’s election mean for the NDP and for Canada as a whole?
Right off the bat, I’ll just go ahead and put it out there: Singh is a whole lot less white and Christian than most Canadian political personalities. In fact, he’s the first leader of a major political party to be non-white and openly non-Christian, being a Punjabi-Canadian Sikh man. This in itself is not particularly indicative of good policy, but I think it’s at least interesting to note. It could also hold some benefit to the NDP, who have had trouble making inroads with immigrant communities, particularly Sikh people (who tend to vote Liberal). However, time will tell if this factors into the vote in Quebec, where a historical emphasis on secularism has led some to be leery of Singh’s “openly Sikh” deal.
He is also the youngest leader of the NDP ever at age 38, and is the second-youngest of the current leaders of the major parties, being four months older than Andrew Scheer (38) of the Conservative party, and seven years younger than Justin Trudeau (45) of the Liberal Party. That’s right: Justin Trudeau is now the eldest among the three. Just like we all predicted!
Another major issue to point out is Singh’s perceived moderate stance, which has led to some disgruntled NDPers referring to him as “Trudeau 2.0” or as a “Liberal-lite“, because he takes a lot of selfies and he doesn’t criticize Trudeau’s choice of socks enough, or whatever. It didn’t exactly help that he had the support of the NDP establishment, who tend to hug the centre more than the NDP base.
While those Ashton, Angus and Caron supporters who were hoping for a more noticeably leftist bent from the NDP (myself included) are relatively justified in being a bit disappointed, Jagmeet Singh is certainly not the Tony Blair-esque neoliberal in social democratic clothing that some are making him out to be. Most of his positions are in line with classic social democratic NDP values. Sure, he has some strange ideas about Old Age Security, but as a whole, his platform is solidly anti-austerity, and is certainly to the left of the outgoing Tom Mulcair. Long story short, if you think that Jack “attempted to coalition with the Liberals” Layton was centre-left, then it’s really not that much more of a stretch to think the same about Singh.
There’s also the matter of him not having a seat in the House of Commons. Singh is expected to resign his seat in the Parliament of Ontario, but from then, it’s not clear what exactly he plans to do until he claims a seat in either a by-election or the 2019 federal election. If he decides to wait for a by-election, it’s not clear which seat he would try to claim. The seats in his hometown of Brampton, Ontario are all claimed by Liberals who aren’t giving any indication of resigning their seats. It’s possible he could try to get in through a more NDP-friendly Ontario city like Hamilton, but even that’s not a slam dunk, given that in 2015, rookie NDP candidate in the riding of Hamilton Mountain (Scott Duvall) only beat Liberal candidate by 2.2%. Meanwhile, the more solidly orange riding of Hamilton Centre has been represented by NDP veteran and former Hamilton City Councillor David Christopherson since 1990 in both provincial and federal parliament. Forcing him to resign could work in theory, but it would also be the biggest dick move you could possibly pull in this scenario.
There’s also been some talk of him running somewhere outside of Ontario, possibly Mulcair’s riding of Outremont (a major longshot, given that the Liberals are likely to make a major push for the riding), or, more realistically, somewhere in the Greater Vancouver area. However, it is more likely in my opinion that Singh uses the time before the election to do some serious pre-campaigning, and that he will run in Brampton come 2019. It’s not a situation that I would’ve liked to go through, but what do I know, I guess???
On the plus side, Singh has appointed a Parliamentary Leader to lead the NDP caucus in his absence: His former leadership rival, Guy Caron. All three of you who read my leadership preview will know that I could not be happier with this choice, even if it’s basically a consolation prize for specifically me.
So, what does Singh’s victory mean for the NDP’s chances in 2019? Is that the year that Singh and Co. will finally break the wheel of Liberal and Tory domination in Canada? Well, in a word: No. In two words: Hell no. Canadians don’t usually vote governments out after one term in office, especially relatively popular ones. Add to the equation that a proportional electoral system will not be a factor in 2019, and the path to victory for the NDP becomes that much more nebulous.
That isn’t to say that the Trudeau Liberals are gonna stay popular (in fact, they haven’t been doing so hot in the polls recently, for whatever that’s worth at this point in the election cycle), or that the Singh NDP can’t surge to victory. However, if I was a betting man, I would probably stake my life on the Liberal Party winning the most seats in the next election, and we will get to see Justin Trudeau being called the “Leader of the Free World” by the international media for being better than Donald Trump, which, at the risk of showing my bias, is kind of like giving Michael Bay a Best Director Oscar for being better than Uwe Boll.
Notice how I phrased that: The Liberals are likely going to win the most seats in the next election. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re gonna win a majority government. If Singh is able to steal disgruntled progressive voters who feel let down by Trudeau, the NDP have a solid shot at forcing a Liberal minority government that would, in all likelihood, require NDP support to survive a four-year term. Then, assuming everything’s gone right thus far (and therefore setting myself and anybody who’s taking this seriously up for severe disappointment), 2023 may be the NDP’s best shot at getting themselves into power.
Which isn’t to say that Singh doesn’t have his work cut out for him. He was the weakest debater by far out of the four leadership candidates, and while Trudeau and Scheer aren’t exactly savants in that respect, and while Singh has the charisma to stand toe-to-toe with Trudeau, he tends to speak in vague platitudes that get annoying after a while, dodging questions at a rate that would make Hillary Clinton raise her eyebrows. Factor in that the mainstream media can’t decide whether he’s the heir apparent to Trudeau or whether he’s an apologist for a Sikh terrorist who killed 329 people on an airplane when Singh was six years old. Yes, you read that right. Yes, it’s moronic.
So, will Singh lead the NDP to the Big Prize? Will the NDP continue fading into oblivion? Hell if I know. All I know is that it’s going to be an interesting road to 2019. And as we all take this journey together, you can bet on one thing: That I’m gonna be drunk the whole time.