Toronto, Aug 10 (Agencies): More than 10 months since he made history by becoming leader of the federal New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh will finally vie for a seat in the House of Commons, attempting to enter Canada’s Parliament for the first time.
Singh announced that he will run from the riding (as constituencies are called in Canada) of Burnaby South during an event held at an outdoor studio for one of the region’s film production facilities. The town of Burnaby is in the province of British Columbia (BC) and distant from Singh’s base in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto in Ontario on the other side of the country.
A byelection for the Burnaby South riding has been precipitated by sitting lawmaker, Kennedy Stewart, resigning from the House of Commons to run for mayor of Vancouver.
NDP won Burnaby South in the 2015 federal elections by a narrow margin of more than 500 votes, and it will not be a lock for Singh to retain.
While Burnaby South has been an NDP stronghold in recent times, political scientist Hamish Telford, of the University of the Fraser Valley in BC, didn’t believe it will be an easy contest for Singh. Telford said, “It’s not really safe, it’s going to be a challenge for him to hold the seat. He’s not a local candidate. When you parachute a candidate in from another province, it’s more challenging.”
Singh has suffered criticism in recent months for not taking the plunge into an election for MP thus far, even as his popularity has diminished in recent national polls.
Surrounded by supporters, Singh said “we need to have our voices represented in our government” as he made the announcement.
He attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying: “I’m running because Trudeau betrayed people on electoral reform. I am running because we can’t wait two years to find a solution to affordable housing. We need prescription medication covered now. We don’t need a public government to invest billions of dollars in a leaky pipeline.”
That last issue may be critical in the byelection, since it referred to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, a project that was recently controversially acquired by Ottawa and opposed by Singh and the NDP government in British Columbia.
To pre-empt criticism of using Burnaby South as a launchpad for his federal ambitions and then running from Brampton in the federal election next year, Singh indicated he will remain loyal to the city if elected, as he said: “I am committed to Burnaby South. I am all in Burnaby. My wife and I talked about it – and we are going to run here.”
Singh has never been an MP, thereby missing out on high-visibility opportunities of confronting Trudeau directly in Parliament. He was a member of the Ontario provincial legislature from a seat in Brampton when he was elected NDP leader.
While the norm has usually been for other parties to allow a federal leader a free run in a byelection in the past, that may not be the case in this instance. Telford expected the ruling Liberal Party to make a play for the seat. “The Liberals will view this as an opportunity to steal a seat in British Columbia and give Jagmeet Singh a run for his money,” he said.
Burnaby, though, already has a negative connotation as far as Singh’s short career as federal leader is concerned. This was where Talwinder Singh Parmar, considered the mastermind of the bombing of Air India flight 182, lived at the time Canada’s worst terrorist attack occurred, one that claimed329 lives.
Days after he was elected NDP leader, Singh was castigated for not disavowing the practice of some gurdwaras in Canada, including in British Columbia, featuring images of Parmar and honouring him as a martyr. Singh repeatedly refused to condemn that practice in an interview with national broadcaster CBC’s Terry Milewski, despite being pressed several times.
This issue, and subsequent revelations of his presence at pro-Khalistan rallies, could cast a shadow over the byelection, dates for which have yet to be announced.
The NDP has yet to win a federal byelection since Singh was elected its leader and his political future may depend on breaking that streak.