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Jagmeet Singh wins NDP leadership in first round

He is named NDP leader with 53 per cent of the vote and becomes the first person of colour to lead a federal party.

New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh makes his inaugural speech on Oct. 1 at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto less than two hours after online voting ended.
Screenshot courtesy of CPAC

PUBLISHED :Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 8:08 PM

Defying predictions that there would be multiple rounds of voting, Jagmeet Singh secured a decisive first-round win today to become the new NDP leader and the first person of colour to lead a federal party.

The Ontario MPP gave his victory speech on stage in a Toronto hotel ballroom surrounded by supporters after claiming almost triple the votes of the next-closest contestant. The 35,266 New Democrats who voted for him made up 53 per cent of the total 65,782 votes cast.

Long positioned by his campaign as the “growth candidate,” Mr. Singh was well ahead of the other perceived frontrunner, Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), who tallied 12,705 votes. Niki Ashton (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.) got 11,374 votes and Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.), known to have a weaker ground game, got 6,164.

As the vote counts were read aloud, with Mr. Singh coming last, Mr. Angus appeared solemn, while Mr. Caron and Ms. Ashton smiled when they heard theirs. Mr. Singh later brought them and caucus members on stage with him as he gave his victory speech.

  

New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, far left, welcomes the other three candidates who were vying for the party leadership on stage in Toronto during his victory speech on Oct. 1. From left: Charlie Angus, Guy Caron, and Niki Ashton. Screenshot courtesy of CPAC

Mr. Singh’s win was not surprising to many observers, though some had suggested it would take more than one round of voting to get there. He raised more much money than his competitors, had the most caucus endorsements, and said he signed up 38 per cent of the party’s total members.

In his first speech as leader, he said growing up with brown skin means he knows what it’s like to be stopped by police for that reason. If he were to become prime minister, he said he would make sure that no one in Canada would be stopped by police because of the colour of their skin or how they look.

“It makes you feel like you don’t belong,” said Mr. Singh, whose response to a racist heckler during a campaign stop earlier this month was captured on video and viewed millions of times.

His campaign was dogged by concerns from some segments of the party that as a turban-wearing Sikh, as leader Mr. Singh would face an especially difficult path in Quebec. The province’s politicians have talked for years about banning public servants from wearing overt religious symbols and a former Parti Québécois government once proposed a secular values charter.

  

The heckler video was a key moment in Mr. Singh’s campaign, which started strong but had gone through a bit of a lull, said Alice Funke, who runs the website Pundits’ Guide and worked for a combined 11 years up to 2000 for the NDP on the Hill.

“The Quebec issue came to the fore again. As those things happened he, in my view, gained some gravitas. And that’s when you started to notice the party members of longer standing starting to change their mind,” said Ms. Funke, who supported Mr. Singh, adding that he attracted a public profile and media coverage that his competitors couldn’t manage.

His place as the first person who is a visible minority to lead a federal political party is groundbreaking for the NDP and for Canada, said Robin MacLachlan, a vice-president at Summa Strategies who is a Singh supporter and a former NDP staffer.

“You cannot overstate how significant that is,” he said. “I’m a white Canadian; I don’t think I can grasp fully of how important that is for people of colour, marginalized groups growing up in communities where they feel underrepresented in hallways of power.”

  

Former NDP national director Karl Bélanger noted one of Mr. Singh’s next challenges will be comforting those in the party worried about his chances in Quebec, where the party won 59 seats in the 2011 election in a historic breakthrough but only managed to win 16 in the 2015 election.

“It comes with a fair number of challenges, and more than [his] being a visible minority—clearly in Quebec the fact that he’s wearing religious symbols is a factor.”

Jagmeet Singh hugs campaign director Michal Hay, whom he credited for leading thousands of volunteers since the leader launched his candidacy in May. Screenshot courtesy of CPAC

Mr. Singh’s campaign had an energy the others couldn’t muster, including a ground game that brought out thousands of volunteers and made sure they were eager to turn up and vote. That made the difference, said Mr. MacLachlan.

“That’s the type of organization he can bring to the NDP, which badly needs it. Our fundraising is down, our party apparatus needs rejuvenation,” said MacLachlan, who criticizes politicos who say Quebec will be a problem for Mr. Singh.

The results fell in line with the fundraising totals. Mr. Singh raised $618,780, easily eclipsing his competitors, according to the latest Elections Canada figures. Mr. Angus raised $374,147, followed by Ms. Ashton at $250,937 and Mr. Caron at $188,542.

The NDP said the leadership race helped to triple its membership since March. And nearly 53 per cent of the eligible 124,000 members voted in the first round.

Mr. Singh’s campaign said it signed up 47,000 of those new members, and though rivals disputed that figure, his membership drive made a difference Sunday.

While NDP president Marit Stiles and an analysis of a recent a Mainstreet Research poll suggested a winner would only be determined after multiple rounds, Mr. Singh’s team was clear its best chance would be on the first ballot.

His team spent its money on field organization, said Ms. Funke, who said she was told by a vendor who handles bulk text-messaging for voter contact that Mr. Singh’s campaign was using the service at 10 times the rate of others.

NDP supporters crowd the room at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle on Oct. 1 as Jagmeet Singh is named their new federal leader. Screenshot courtesy of CPAC

The new leader’s next challenge will be overseeing a smooth transition including appointing a leader in the House of Commons where he doesn’t have a seat, and isn’t planning on running for one until the next general election in 2019.

It also means living up to “really large expectations,” Ms. Funke said, and crafting his image now that he’s on the national stage. He must present himself to Canadians outside the Toronto area and Ontario who wouldn’t know the 38-year-old lawyer. 

He must make sure he does the defining rather than being defined by other parties, Ms. Funke noted.

Outgoing leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) wasn’t at the results announcement. He’s on a parliamentary trip, said Mr. Singh, but Mr. Singh thanked him, especially for leading the party’s breakthrough in Quebec.

Last week Mr. Mulcair criticized Mr. Singh’s plan to tour Canada to introduce himself to Canadians rather than campaign for a seat before the next federal election. 

It showed he takes the “high road,” said Mr. MacLachlan of the Ontario MPP, noting he joins the rare ranks of Jack Layton and Tommy Douglas for winning leadership in the first round.

“He leads by example but he also leads collaboratively. And, to be frank, that’s going to be a bit of positive shift from the style of leadership Tom Mulcair was known for.”

swallen@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Correction: An earlier version said Jagmeet Singh’s campaign used a vendor for bulk text message fundraising, when it was for voter contact.