Jagmeet Singh’s rookie blunders

Stephen Maher on how the new NDP leader has misstepped and misfired, causing friction inside his party as it falls behind in Ottawa


Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh delivers the keynote address at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Gala on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Welcome to the bigs, Mr. Singh.

On Oct. 2, the day after Jagmeet Singh became leader of the NDP, he did an interview with Terry Milewski on CBC-TV. At the end of the interview, Milewski asked him to denounce Talwinder Parmar, the terrorist behind the 1985 Air India bombing, which killed 329 people, mostly Canadians.

Singh dodged the question repeatedly, suggested that Parmar might not be responsible for the bombing, and in a later scrum said that the question was racist.

Viewers complained to CBC about the segment, but on Dec. 6, the CBC ombudsman found, correctly, that Milewski, who has been covering the Air India tragedy for decades, was posing “a relevant journalistic question.”

So, in his first day in Ottawa, Singh failed to denounce a terrorist and made an unfounded accusation of racism. He looked like a talented rookie called up from the AHL complaining to the ref after his first time in the corners of a big rink.

Singh is an appealing, ambitious 38-year-old, and there is a large, friendly constituency open to his leadership, but his previous political experience as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP has not prepared him for this job, and he has surrounded himself with inexperienced loyalists.

READ MORE: Jagmeet Singh and the shunning of Parliament

Longtime New Democrats are watching with concern. The new leader, who does not have a seat in the House of Commons, is spending a lot of time on the road, not a lot of time in Ottawa, which is—duh—where all the cameras are. He has no plans to run for a seat any time soon and his message, delivered to regional media outlets, often diverges from the message his caucus is pushing in Ottawa.

Singh is said to be a quick study, but the veterans who ran the operation for Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair are gone, meaning there is nobody on the coaching staff who can point Singh in the right direction.

On Nov. 6, at a get-to-know-the-new-leader meeting for NDP staff, Nasha Brownridge, the president of the union local that represents NDP workers on the Hill, asked Singh about banked overtime issues for staffers who were laid off during the election. Singh misunderstood the question and told the shocked staffers that politics sometimes requires people to work after 5 p.m. He later met with Brownridge to apologize, and she sent an email to staff to clear the air, noting “much concern and upset” among her brothers and sisters. This is not how things usually work in NDP-land, and someone leaked the email.

There are signs that Singh is also causing concern and upset in the caucus that, when he happens to be in Ottawa, he is supposed to lead. Last Wednesday, Singh told reporters that he thinks that a judge who speaks an Indigenous language but not French should be eligible for appointment to the Supreme Court, contradicting longstanding NDP policy. When MPs arrived later for question period, they flatly contradicted him, and he issued a statement reversing himself.

The NDP beachhead in Quebec, which was won after years of patient work by Layton, Mulcair and dedicated Quebec lefties, is in danger of disappearing in the next election.

Quebecers, like the French, are uneasy with open displays of religiosity, and Singh wears a turban. The Bloc, which takes it cues from the increasingly anti-immigration Parti Québécois, can be expected to jab at Singh’s religion in an effort to win back voters it lost to Layton.

The Quebecers in Singh’s caucus ought to be considering their career choices, given the polls, which show the Liberals poised to make gains in Quebec. Those MPs need Singh freelancing on bilingualism like they need an unnecessary penalty at the end of the third period.

And other NDP MPs are finding it hard to explain Singh’s proposal to decriminalize hard drugs. There is solid academic research to suggest this is a good idea, but it sounds better on Queen Street West or Vancouver’s east side than it does in Jonquière or Churchill.

The biggest debate in Ottawa since Singh became leader has been about taxes, including tax evasion. This should be an easy one for the NDP, since the party attacked the previous government, and the one before that, for not taking action on tax havens.

Somehow, though, they have been elbowed out of the way by the Conservatives, who are managing to portray themselves as the party fighting for the working class against the elitists in the Liberal party, with Pierre Poilievre, champion of the downtrodden, leading the way.

It’s Singh’s job to get his party into the story, and he has failed to do that, largely because he is not only not in the House of Commons but not even in Ottawa, which is where, again, all the cameras are.

Singh does not have a chief of staff or director of communications yet in place. He is too often out of step with his caucus. His party is facing the most left-wing government since Pierre Trudeau was in office, which poses a difficult political problem for New Democrats.

The good news is that the election is almost two years away and Singh has a winning way, particularly with young people, who will be more important in the next election than any election in a long time.

But if he wants to play in the big leagues, he’d better start showing the fans that he knows where the net is.



Jagmeet Singh’s rookie blunders

  1. If a Catholic priest ran for a seat in Parliament wearing his clerical collar, he could reasonably be expected to be asked about the scandals, and the criminal prosecutions, surrounding the abuse of young males.
    It is hypocritical to the “nth’ degree for Mr. Singh to have pulled out the “race” card regarding Mr. Milewski’s question concerning the Air India bombing.
    Worse, he is using the same illogical equating of “race” with “religion” which the Muslim Brotherhood and other Anglo-Saxon hating Muslims use. (MP Iraq Khalid, proponent of the Motion 103, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood).
    It is a sad, sad day when a person wins a leadership race by signing up 45,000 members of his own ethnic enclave, but then tries to impugn the integrity of a well-respected journalist for raising a question about the history of that ethnic enclave.

    • What questions about Christian terrorists were asked to Mr. Sheer when he won for the Conservatives? Try to find some and let us know. Your comments smell of racism but I’m sure you already know that.

      • Scheer was asked many questions about his religion and its influence on him, including questions about abortion.
        And please don’t try to use the ‘racism’ smear because someone has a comment you may not agree with.

  2. Singh, a perfectly nice person overall, means well, but i think its more than just a tiff with the party favorites, no one in this country wants to see a PM with religious jewelry or religious garb hanging around their necks, or on their bodies while representing this country as a PM. Just look what religion does to this world, after Trumps announcement in Israel a couple of days ago. Religion is the elixir that poisons the mind, it doesn’t allow you to think, it only tells people how to think, and when you have to be told how to think, you have major problems. The NDP should have stuck to it’s grassroots belief, whatever that is now, and elected another fogy, though not a real conservative fogy, Charlie(Fargus)Angus. Just imagine, no bump in the numbers for both Singh and Sheer after the leadership races, what does that tell you about these two opposition leaders, one lame duck with religious jewelry, and the other(Sheer) similar to Singh, doesn’t wear the religious symbols, though you can see the light shine through the clouds as he strolls down his suburbia streets, but promotes religious values and tries to incorporate them into his policies, no abortion, no gay marriage, just a few examples. The elephant in the room is the ideology thing and symbols, but reporters and journos are afraid to tell the truth, they come up with some other cockamamie excuse like, its the party.

    • i like that line, John Travolta’s bother uses in the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’ when he tells Travolta why he left the priesthood, he said, ” when i look at a cross, i see a man on a cross, and nothing else, just a man on a cross”, that’s how i see religion.

    • Harper had a super majority and didn’t reopen the issues of gay marriage and abortion. Andrew Scheer has said numerous times he would not reopen those issues either. How about coming up with some real criticism of Scheer instead of virtue signalling? Romanado tried virtue signalling this week by playing victim and she was laughed at even by staunch Liberal supporters. Canadians aren’t buying this anymore. Try something new.

  3. This is a very weak article. Every so often Maclean’s must have nothing to write about so they do this. Interesting, there has been a lot of sh*t thrown at Singh since he won. A lot of it has a smell of racism but don’t say that out loud because it offends the racists who hide behind their free speech b.s.

  4. To me the immediate charge to the racism card makes him a non entity for me. It is one thing to make mistakes and another to accuse people of racism for doing their job. That is the last thing our society needs.

    • I agree with you. I think that NDP elected a wrong leader (not the first or last time) not only because of his ethnicity or religious symbols but because of a very weak slate of candidates they had in the leadership race.
      I also question his political credentials and achievements as a deputy to the Ontario NDP Leader?
      What are they?

  5. I hope Singh kicks it up a good notch and pulls votes away from the Liberals ensuring a Conservative win at the next election. We need to get rid of Trudeau and the rest of his tax dollar wasters.

  6. Jagmeet Singh must placate the reds in his party; Andrew Scheer must placate the rednecks in his; Trudeau only has to placate the Charlie Browns. Of the first two, Scheer is the more competent using code words like “real refugees”, “common sense on firearms” and “family values” to stay under the radar. The problem with Singh is that he lacks the dancing skills of Scheer and Trudeau; on the up side, perhaps it is the era of non-politic politicians.

Sign in to comment.