Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) may not have succeeded yet in tipping the scales in its favour in the recent federal election, but under its charismatic leader and son of India-born parents, Jagmeet Singh, 42, it could well be the party to reckon with in the future of the country’s politics.
Mr. Singh, whose training in Brazilian ju-jitsu makes him no stranger to a fight, helped his party garner 25 seats — and counting — at least one seat more in the Canadian Parliament than during the previous election in 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won 158 seats, short of the 170 seats needed for majority. Like in 2019, Mr. Singh is expected to play the role of king maker.
His rise will be watched closely in India, as indeed the Canadian Sikh community has always been on the radar of South Block for the occasional, apparently irksome, comments made among the latter regarding Khalistan and Sikh interests in the Indian political milieu. In 2013, Mr. Singh was reported to have been denied a visa to India after he spoke out for justice for victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Fighting in the trenches
Although today Mr. Singh rivals the style-icon, Gen Z-embracing status of Mr. Trudeau, and has even exceeded the latter’s accomplishments by becoming a Tik Tok star and gracing the pages of a men’s fashion magazine, he rose from humble beginnings and gritty trench warfare as a criminal defence lawyer in Ontario.
Born in Scarborough, Ontario, to Harmeet Kaur and Jagtaran Singh, Mr. Singh had a difficult childhood in some regards as their family moved regularly for his father’s work, and his father struggled with alcoholism. In a memoir published in 2019 he revealed that he had been sexually abused by a school coach when he was 10 years old, and he came out with the details because he “had a platform where I could say a lot of things that might help people out,” he said, adding, “I hope that in the struggles that I faced, I can help people that are facing similar struggles to feel less alone.”
At the time Mr. Trudeau praised Mr. Singh’s courage, tweeting that Mr. Singh was helping to “fight against stigma.”
As part of the multiple relocations that his family went through during his early years, he also moved to Punjab and lived there briefly until his father joined medical school in Newfoundland, to train to become a psychiatrist. At that point the Singh family returned to Canada and settled down in Windsor, Ontario, on the east bank of the Detroit River.
During 2006-2011, Mr. Singh served as a criminal defence lawyer, first for a private firm and then on his own, a stint that he has said shaped his desire to enter politics. “Criminal defence is a bit more liberal, more left-wing because of the... social justice aspect of it,” he said in a 2012 interview.
Filling a political gap
In that regard, Mr. Singh apparently fills a vacuum in Canadian politics, blending the growing appreciation of left-of-centre politics in the context of the pandemic, with 21-century digital savvy that helps him translate his political intentions to a generation that consumes news and political information in a purely online ecosystem.
Among the key issues that he fought for in the most recent federal election are writing off student-loan debt, tackling inflated housing and rental markets, and reducing emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030. At a broad cut, the NDP under Mr. Singh does not shy away from talking about tackling income distribution and taxing the ultra-wealthy, not to mention putting critical issues facing Canada’s indigenous minorities front and centre, including attacking Mr. Trudeau for failing to provide clean drinking water to these communities. Polling suggests that indigenous voters may be losing confidence in Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
After veering to the right under the influence of Donald Trump in the U.S., Brexit in the U.K., and similar impulses elsewhere, world politics appears to be returning to the centre or centre-left in some cases as nations are still reeling under the debilitating health and economic effects of the pandemic. If the appetite for state interventionism deepens in Canadian politics too, then Mr. Singh and his party may well be poised to play an even bigger role in shaping their country’s future in the years ahead.