The federal New Democratic Party has a new leader.
Jagmeet Singh was elected by NDP membership on Oct. 1 in the first round of ballot voting, and will succeed Thomas Mulcair, who stepped down in April 2016.
Singh, an MPP in Ontario and deputy leader of the provincial NDP, won with 53 per cent of the vote — surpassing the 50 per cent threshold requirement — over challengers Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Guy Caron.
Though Singh was elected leader, he is not a sitting MP, a factor that doesn’t concern the party right now, says Wayne Stetski. The Kootenay-Columbia MP called the House and Ottawa a ‘bubble’ and noted that instead of trying to run in a byelection, Singh’s time would be better spent getting out into the public eye.
“His task now is to really get out across the country and meet people,” Stetski said. “He has a very, very warm personality and when people meet him, they quite like him.
“So I’m actually quite happy he’s not in the House of Commons. We have 44 MPs in the House, we’re fine in the House, in terms of dealing with government legislation, so his time is best spent out around Canada getting to know people and letting people have the opportunity to get to know him.”
It’s the same position that former NDP leader Jack Layton was in, as he was not a Member of Parliament when he was elected leader of the party in 2003, but won his federal seat in Toronto a year later following a general election.
Singh’s election as NDP party leader is a historical moment, as he is the first visible minority as a Sikh to permanently head up a federal political party.
Singh entered Ontario provincial politics in 2011 and rose through the NDP ranks to become deputy leader. He holds an undergraduate degree in biology and a law degree where he worked as a criminal defence lawyer and opened his own practice.
Stetski says Singh will focus on fundamental NDP policies such as climate change, proportional representation, affordable housing and poverty reduction.
Singh has a broad base of support, signing up thousands of new members and out-fundraising other federal leaders in Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer when they ran for the leadership of their respective parties, said Stetski.
Stetski added that Singh has attracted a wide base of support, as reflected by his popularity in winning the leadership race on his first ballot.
“He comes into the party very excited, very confident that the NDP will become the party of choice for Canadians partly because we absolutely are going to be putting together an action plan and spending a lot of time demonstrating what’s different between the NDP and the Liberals around action and words, particularly around action.
“There’s that old saying that much more seasoned politicians said to me a couple of times that historically, the Liberals campaign from the left but they govern from the right.”
The NDP suffered a huge blow in the 2015 general election, going from 105 seats and Official Opposition status to 51 seats, as the Liberals ate into NDP support on their way to a majority government.
Stetski says the party needs to emphasize a philosophy of making alternative policy suggestions if opposing a piece of legislation, citing the phrase of ’no opposition without proposition’ which was a mantra often repeated by Layton.
Stetski adds that Singh adds the element of inspiration to the phrase.
“You need some opposition, you need to show what isn’t going well, you need to propose what would make it better, but then you also need to get out there and make sure people are inspired by what you’re going to do and that’s how you move the party forward,” Stetski said. “And I really like that. It fits with my view of politics.”