It was a first ballot tidal wave as Toronto-area MPP Jagmeet Singh captured the federal NDP leadership Sunday.
Singh was considered the frontrunner for most of the race despite being the last to announce his candidacy.
Many observers credit his organizing abilities for the win, as his campaign signed up more than 47,000 new members to support a platform focused on workers’ rights and social justice.
Known for his stylish dress, Singh says his personal dress code reflects his experiences of racism.
“I felt that if people are going to stare at me, I might as well give them something to look at,” he told GQ magazine in February. “Because I was considered stylish, with these colourful turbans and well-cut suits and showing myself as confident person, I could use that as a tool to talk about things like unfairness, injustice, poverty, and inequality in the public sphere.”
Racism also led him to study martial arts, he told the magazine. As a young boy being picked on in school he needed to be able to defend himself, he said.
Singh’s skills in dealing with combatants was thrust into the spotlight last month when a woman angry about Sharia law crashed one of his campaign events and yelled in his face in front of astonished supporters. Singh was praised for the way he handled the incident.
During the NDP leadership campaign Singh had offices across Canada.
In August he told The Tyee a strong organizing efforts was a key part of his path to victory because he was up against three opponents who are already Members of Parliament.
“I don’t have that federal background,” Singh said. “I think that’s a bit of a barrier, making sure that the federal membership get that I can do this.”
The federal membership got it. Singh is now the first non-Caucasian to lead a major federal party in Canada, winning with more than 50 per cent of the vote at just over 35,000 votes. First runner up Charlie Angus received just less than 13,000 votes.
The 38-year-old Singh was born in Toronto and lived in Newfoundland and Windsor before moving back to the Toronto area and working as a criminal defence lawyer. He became the provincial representative for Bramela-Gore-Malton in the Ontario legislature in 2011.
Singh says his work with marginalized groups led him into provincial politics, as he kept hearing they didn’t feel represented in the legislature.
Singh rose quickly in the Ontario NDP, becoming known for fighting the practice of police carding and working for lower car insurance rates.
Singh became deputy leader of the party in 2015.
In April he successfully spearheaded a motion aimed at protecting vulnerable temp workers, many of whom are women of colour.
It called for a ban on the practice of charging employees to arrange temp jobs. It also proposed making it illegal to classify long-term jobs as temporary and requiring equal pay for temp workers and permanent employees doing the same work.
“What makes matters even worse Madam Speaker, is we have the Prime Minister that endorsed his Finance Minister’s position,” Singh said. “If we have the Prime Minister of this country accepting that precarious employment, that insecure employment, that unstable employment is okay that is sending such a horrible message to young people in this country.”
Six months later Singh is Justin Trudeau’s chief opponent on the left— and he’ll be doing the job from outside the House of Commons. Singh said he won’t seek a seat until the 2019 election and intends to use the time reaching out to Canadians across the nation.
Last night Singh spoke to Trudeau when the prime minister called to congratulate him on his “barrier-breaking win,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
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