Commentary, Opinion

Look out, Trudeau: NDP’s Singh on the come up

In 2019, Canadians from coast to coast will vote on their next prime minister. Current PM and Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau stepped into his role as PM after winning 39.5 per cent of the vote in the 2015 election. But a lot has changed in the past two years. In the last election, Trudeau faced weak candidates in Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair—men who were evidently less in touch with the Canadian electorate’s desires, judging by Trudeau’s conclusive win. This coming election, however, with the New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership election approaching in October, a diverse mix of youthful-yet-experienced candidates have set their sights on 24 Sussex Drive. This mix includes Jagmeet Singh, the most recent candidate to enter a bid for the federal leadership of the New Democratic Party.

In 2019, Trudeau will not be able to rely on the factors that helped him coast into office the first time around–if chosen, Singh, a member of the Ontario Legislative Assembly since 2011, will present a new and versatile challenge for the Liberals to overcome after an underwhelming term. Singh has swooped into the race for the NDP candidacy with suavity and boasting strong supporters. Singh brings many positive attributes to the table in areas where Trudeau falters, posing a unique threat to the Liberals. Singh expands on the same strategies that Trudeau used to propel him to victory—speaking to dissatisfied Canadians’ concerns coupled with idealistic social policies. Singh has the added help of far greater political experience than Trudeau had: Singh’s education as a lawyer, his experience leading the Ontario NDPs, and his helping the NDP win a majority in Alberta far outstrip Trudeau’s education degree and just two years of Liberal leadership experience.

In a speech announcing his candidacy, Singh promised to focus on inclusivity in Canada, condemning the political division that has polarized the UK, France, and the United States. This may be just what Canadians—fearful of divisive political tactics employed by leaders such as Donald Trump—need to hear in the current political climate. Singh also promotes a vision for social justice for the NDP that he claims has the unique ability to solve many of Canada’s problems.

All this makes Singh a potentially formidable opponent for Trudeau in 2019. Trudeau’s last victory may be in part attributed to luck, thanks to inadequacies from the preceding Harper administration, lacklustre opponents, and popular, idealistic policies. But since being elected, Trudeau has proven to be a disappointment to many of his voters. He betrayed his own promise to reform Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral policy, sparking outrage amongst many voters. Comments about “phasing out” the oilsands triggered anger and fear in many Albertans. Furthermore, the new federal budget, introduced in March 2017, was met with disapproval from citizens. Singh has taken a strong stand against Trudeau’s shortcomings, speaking out against the PM for going back on his electoral reform promises and against the Kinder Morgan pipeline which Trudeau has previously supported.

Despite his qualifications, Singh’s road to federal leadership does not come without obstacles. Singh is less well known than Trudeau, originally thanks to his father Pierre Trudeau’s popularity. Another ugly reality is that racism against racial and religious minorities, especially in rural Canada, may favour Trudeau over Singh. If Singh wins the NDP leadership, he would be the first non-white candidate to lead a major political party in Canadian history. The need to address the current low GDP growth rate may also play against him. Singh’s campaign slogan focuses on “love and courage.” This theme may not be enough to win the hearts of those who are suffering under the current economy and are more concerned with job growth. With hardly any mention of that in Singh’s campaign so far, he may be overlooked or even disliked by members of the working class.

Nonetheless, Trudeau needs to adapt his upcoming campaign to new obstacles standing between him and a second term, or the NDP may put a PM in office for the first time. Singh’s progressive policies and compelling presence may just be enough to put him at the head of the race.

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