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Even if you’re not a New Democrat, you’ve got to feel for Jagmeet Singh

By Tim Powers      

With caucus-conduct controversies and concerns about his chances in the next election, it’s not a great time to be the NDP leader.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters in the House foyer after his party's weekly caucus meeting on May 9. Every question he was asked related to allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct against NDP MP Christine Moore, which she denies. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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OTTAWA—Even if you aren’t a New Democrat you’ve got to feel a little bit for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. It is as if he can neither make a break nor catch one. Even longtime Dippers, who usually have an abundance of optimism even when facts and the environment suggest they shouldn’t, are concerned about Singh’s chances in the next election.

Currently, Singh is trying to manage two different cases of alleged harassment and impropriety. The first involves Saskatchewan Member of Parliament Erin Weir whom Singh did eventually turf from caucus after a third-party investigator found Weir didn’t behave appropriately.

Media reports suggest Singh wanted Weir to acknowledge and take responsibility for his alleged behaviour and believes that Weir refused to do so. Singh also wanted Weir to take some training.

Weir has offered a different account, not just involving the incidents the investigator identified but the manner in which caucus and Singh’s team dealt with him. Weir is fighting back forcefully and winning over some opinion leaders in the process.

Weir says he’s being called a sexual harasser because, he says, he “had probably sat or stood too close to people at social events and engaged them in conversation more than they wished to speak with him.”

None of this is helping Singh, as it advances a conversation that has been going on in Ottawa for a while now about Singh’s leadership abilities and what appears to be a challenged relationship with his caucus.

Quebec New Democratic Party MP Christine Moore is turning Mr. Singh’s headache into a full-blown migraine. Not long after Singh had made his decision on Weir, a story emerged from a military veteran alleging Moore took advantage of him and abused her position of power.

Moore, who was a central figure in the Weir saga, according to former soldier Glen Kirkland, invited him to her office following a committee appearance he made. Kirkland alleges that there she encouraged him to drink alcohol though he told her he was on medication and shouldn’t drink. He claims she later followed him to his hotel room and spent the night.

Moore has denied Kirkland’s account. She claims they were “lovers” and the relationship was consensual. She says she invited not just Kirkland but also other veterans to her office after the hearing. And she denies that she followed Kirkland back to his hotel room and says he invited her to his room.

She says she intends to take legal action against Kirkland as well as columnists Neil Macdonald, Christie Blatchford, and Rosie DiManno who have written on the story. Prior to that, Singh had announced he was going to have the matter formally looked into and he suspended Moore’s caucus duties.

Singh is likely not delighted with Moore’s response. While she certainly has every right to defend herself, just like Weir, Singh is not aided by the fact that the most dominant public conversation about his party is related to alleged personal transgressions and failings of caucus members. Layered into that dialogue is the apparent inability to have any disciplined political communication.

When other parties and their leaders have gone through this, as they have, the story arch has been more predictable. The accused MPs didn’t offer much of any public comment. The third-party investigator conducted the work. Colleagues may have offered brief comments but then moved on. The report came in. The leader made the decision based on the report. Those affected accepted their punishment. Lessons were learned. Everyone said they needed to do better.

Singh and these cases may be caught up in a #MeToo correction moment. He can’t do anything about that. However, it does look like the New Democrat caucus does not have much fidelity to and confidence in their seat-less leader. Weir and Moore don’t appear too worried at all about creating a commotion that is in their best interests, not their party’s. If all concerned were acting in the best interests of the party or motivated by the leader’s potential chances, it is hard to imagine this would be the pile of communications dung it is.

Singh must wonder some days if the move to federal politics was worth it. Somewhere, Stockwell Day will lend his shoulder to cry on.

Tim Powers is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data. He is a former adviser to Conservative political leaders.

The Hill Times

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