I was really hoping the NDP leadership race would go further along in the rounds of voting. I looked forward to candidates being forced to reevaluate their positions, and hone their ideas against each other. I was also looking forward to seeing how well the party could rally around the eventual winner.
Jagmeet Singh had other ideas, and won in a triumphant (but not completely surprising) first round showing of 53.8 per cent of the vote on October 1. That puts him in an impressive calibre of NDP leaders, with only Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton — whose legacies define the core of the party to this day — having also won on the first ballot. There is something to the fact that he is the first permanent federal party leader from a visible minority, but I’ve always fallen into the camp of believing we need that representation for the sake of role models, not change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that life will get any better for marginalized groups, either. It’s too early to tell.
Honestly, I think I would have found something to be happy with in regards to any of the choices this year; I hope that the results signal a way forward for the whole party. While Charlie Angus — the old punk rocker with solid prospects at second and third choice votes — did underperform, his and Niki Ashton’s (The progressive left wing choice who heavily courted millennials) level of support should tell Singh that there might be value in promoting progressive economic ideas — like worker’s co-ops, nationalizing key industries, and banking by mail. (I never knew this was a thing, but it sounds worthwhile after it was explained to me).
He did well, but he should keep in mind that his leadership win isn’t a mandate by any stretch; only 65,000 or so registered NDP members voted, and most of those happened to be from Ontario and British Columbia. He needs to take the time to listen, to develop the party as a clear alternative to the Liberals coming into the 2019 election. It will have to be a bold alternative, one with confidence for the future, and a platform that can’t be easily borrowed by Justin. Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone should be expecting a sudden turn around or sweep, but rather a claw back of what was lost, and a reaffirmation to their base of support. Our generation of voters will have increasing sway in the coming decades, so the question needs to be asked if the status quo and overton window really reflect us.
His early decision to make Guy Caron the parliamentary leader (Singh himself is not a sitting federal MP) was a good one. Caron is capable, French, and most importantly, doesn’t have the sort of big personality that will distract or diminish from the NDP’s brand building of Jagmeet. I hope similar overtures are being made with Ashton and Angus to keep them in the fold, as they have valuable talents to add to a leadership team. Strong early stances on decriminalization of drugs also keeps him in the news as more progressive and forward thinking than the Liberal government. For every failed promise, for every reluctant half measure, and for every performative gesture that doesn’t go far enough, the NDP can present stronger policy less compromised by donors, and a status quo affirming worldview.
There have also been some early stumbles, such as his recent appearance on CBC’s “Power and Politics,” where Singh avoided condemning an Air India Bomber, or at least avoided trying to explain the complexity of whatever his thoughts were. Whether the line of questioning was appropriate isn’t the point — he’s was supposed to be the leader best able to finesse and navigate the media. We can chalk it up to nerves, but there is going to be pressure on him — fair or unfair — and I want to see more fight than I do flight.