Analysis: Jagmeet Singh wins NDP leadership in historic victory

Photo by BGM Riding Association via Wikimedia
Photo by BGM Riding Association via Wikimedia

New Democrat Party faces the future after surprise landslide

By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer


Jagmeet Singh has won leadership of the NDP.

The Ontario MPP and former criminal defence lawyer is the first person of colour to hold leadership of a Canadian federal party. Singh won in a strong victory over the other candidates, earning more than 50,000 votes compared to the runner-up, Charlie Angus, who won only 12,000. His election shows a continued NDP focus on social issues, as Singh has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights and protection of religious minorities.

Singh was a frontrunner choice soon after he started, but a viral video of him refuting an anti-Muslim citizen at a town hall went viral the week before the election, helping secure his position as a charismatic favourite. During his campaign, Singh talked less about the NDP’s historically socialist economics than his competitors, instead focusing on his and the party’s social justice activism, as did Nikki Ashton in her bid for NDP leadership. This is also similar to Singh’s 2011 run for the Bramalea-Gore-Malton riding in Ontario, which he flipped for the NDP from an incumbent Liberal MPP.

The new leader of the party has been criticized within the NDP for being too moderate and not engaging in the working-class socialism that influenced the party at its beginning. The economic issues that the NDP has traditionally engaged in were sidelined in Singh’s campaign, with few mentions of minimum wage increases, cooperation with unions, or the concept of basic universal income. Leadership candidates Guy Caron, Peter Julian, and Charlie Angus leaned more on economic arguments during their campaigns, with Angus specifically calling out Singh for being supported by his personal charisma and likeability, not party policies supported by average Canadians. In a speech earlier in the year, Angus said that the NDP has previously won “by putting supporters on the ground, not by having someone come in and say ‘I can do this all by myself.’”

Meanwhile, New Westminster MP Peter Julian endorsed Singh shortly after his victory, and expressed admiration at the success of Singh’s campaign.

“What Jagmeet did,” said Julian, according to a report by the National Post, “is he ran in a no-hope riding and built it up into a very strong NDP riding.” Julian also praised Singh’s ability to recruit new NDP members, referring to and supporting Singh’s controversial claim that he raised 47,000 new supporters for the party over the course of his campaign.

Guy Caron, who lost the leadership race to Singh, also voiced his support for the new leader.

“I think people, getting to know him, will adopt him very fast. He’s very likeable. He strikes the right chord with the population,” he said, according to a report by the National Post.

During a debate between the NDP candidates earlier this year, Singh refused to automatically oppose the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansions, unlike the other candidates on stage. BC Premier John Horgan and Singh have not yet commented on their level of cooperation for the pipeline project or similar environmental issues.

It remains to be seen how Singh will work with the unique political situation in British Columbia today and in the run-up to the 2019 federal election. His leadership skills will be put to the test as his election-winning charisma and charm begin to butt against that of Justin Trudeau, his main political rival for the next two years.